Ken Nordine

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Ken Nordine
Born(1920-04-13)April 13, 1920
DiedFebruary 16, 2019(2019-02-16) (aged 98)
Occupation(s)Voice-over, radio host, musician
Years active1948–2019
SpouseBeryl Vaughn

Ken Nordine (April 13, 1920 – February 16, 2019) was an American voice-over and recording artist, best known for his series of word jazz albums.[2] His deep, resonant voice has also been featured in many commercial advertisements and movie trailers. One critic wrote that "you may not know Ken Nordine by name or face, but you'll almost certainly recognize his voice."[3]

Life and career[edit]

The son of Theresia (Danielson) and Nore S. Nordine, a contractor, Ken Nordine was born in Cherokee, Iowa. His parents were Swedish.[4] The family later moved to Chicago, where he attended Lane Technical College Prep High School and the University of Chicago. During the 1940s, he was heard on The World's Great Novels and other radio programs broadcast from Chicago. One of which, Honore de Balzac's short story "Une passion dans le désert", was recorded for the 1955 album Passion in the Desert.[5] In 1955, he provided the voiceover on Billy Vaughn's version of "Shifting Whispering Sands", which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. He subsequently attracted wider attention when he recorded the aural vignettes on Word Jazz (Dot, 1957). Love Words, Son of Word Jazz (Dot, 1958) and his other albums in this vein feature Nordine's narration over cool jazz by the Fred Katz Group featuring Chico Hamilton recording under an alias.[6][7]

Nordine began performing and recording such albums at the peak of the beat era and was associated with the poetry-and-jazz movement. However, it has been observed that some of Nordine's writings "are more akin to Franz Kafka or Edgar Allan Poe" than to the beats.[8] Many of his word jazz tracks feature critiques of societal norms.[9] Some are lightweight and humorous, while others reveal dark, paranoid undercurrents and bizarre, dream-like scenarios. Nordine's DVD, The Eye Is Never Filled was released in 2007.[9]

Nordine hosted the weekly Word Jazz program on WBEZ, also carried on other stations, from the 1970s for over forty years.[10]

Nordine was in demand as a voiceover artist on commercials for several companies including the First Chicago Bank, Levi's, Gallo Wine and Magnavox amongst others.[11]

In 1988, Nordine appeared on two selections from the album Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films: "Hi Diddle Dee Dee (An Actor's Life For Me)" from Pinocchio, and "Desolation Theme", also from Pinocchio.[12]

In 1990, Nordine was approached by Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead to be the anchor for their New Year's Eve radio broadcast from Oakland, California.[13] For the broadcast he recorded some improvisations with Garcia, drummer Mickey Hart and Egyptian musician Hamza El-Din.[13] This subsequently led to an album Devout Catalyst, released on the Grateful Dead's own label in 1991[13] and Upper Limbo in 1993[14] and an appearance with the band live at a show at Rosemont, Illinois, in March 1993.[15]

In 2007, he was a performer at the High Line Festival in New York, curated by David Bowie.[16]

With his wife, the former Beryl Vaughn, an actress whom he married in 1945, he had three sons. Beryl died April 26, 2016.[17] Ken Nordine died February 16, 2019.[18]

Films and television[edit]

Nordine appeared as the narrator, credited as "The Stranger", in Philip Kaufman's 1967 underground comedy Fearless Frank.[19][20] He was also Linda Blair's vocal coach for her role in the 1973 film The Exorcist.[8] Subsequently, Nordine filed a lawsuit, saying he was not properly compensated for his work, eventually settling in 1979.[11]

Nordine narrated several films for classroom use, made by Coronet Instructional Films in the 1950s. In at least one, Developing Your Character, he appears on screen.[21]

On television, Nordine did a series of readings on a show titled Faces in the Window on WNBQ, and Fred Astaire danced to Nordine's "My Baby" on a TV special.[22] Nordine's past radio series were Now Nordine and Word Jazz.[23] He also provided the opening narration for the music video of "Can You Feel It" by the Jacksons. In 1986, Nordine appeared on The Jay Leno Show (TV special) as the storyteller.

Nordine worked with author Maurice Sendak on Sesame Street, providing the narration for the animated segments "Bumble Ardy"[24] and "Seven Monsters".[25]

Nordine provided the voiceover for NewTek's Video Toaster demo reels, such as the 1991 "Revolution".[26]

Selected discography[edit]

  • 1955 – Passion in the Desert[5] (FM)
  • 1957 – Word Jazz[27] (Dot)
  • 1958 – Son of Word Jazz[27] (Dot)
  • 1958 – Love Words[28] (Dot)
  • 1959 – Next![28] (Dot)
  • 1960 – Word Jazz Vol. II[28] (Dot)
  • 1967 – Colors[27] (Philips)
  • 1967 – Ken Nordine Does Robert Shure: Twink[28] (Philips)
  • 1979 – Stare with Your Ears[28] (Snail)
  • 1984 – Triple Talk[28] (Snail)
  • 1986 – Grandson of Word Jazz[28] (Snail)
  • 1991 – Devout Catalyst[13] (Grateful Dead)
  • 1993 – Upper Limbo[14] (Grateful Dead)
  • 2001 – Transparent Mask[29] (Asphodel)
  • 2007 – The Eye Is Never Filled (DVD, Snail)[9]


  1. ^ Kogan, Rick (16 February 2019). "Ken Nordine, Chicago creator of 'word jazz' who had a voice that 'could give you the chills,' dies at 98".
  2. ^ Kogan, Rick (16 February 2019). "Ken Nordine, Chicago creator of 'word jazz' who had a voice that 'could give you chills' dies at 98". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  3. ^ Love, Bret. Review of A Transparent Mask at AllMusic
  4. ^ "Mother and Son – an exhibit at the Swedish American Museum Center – Edgewater Historical Society".
  5. ^ a b "Album Chart of 1955". Thejukebox Rebel. Retrieved October 6, 2018.
  6. ^ Unterberger, Richie. Biography of Ken Nordine at AllMusic
  7. ^ Weber M., The CODA Interview with Fred Katz, CODA The Jazz Magazine, Issue 176 (1980)
  8. ^ a b "Ken Nordine the Word Jazz Impresario". Chicago Jazz Magazine. May 13, 2011. Archived from the original on June 13, 2015. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  9. ^ a b c "Ken Nordine (The voice of Chicago) visits Flashpoint academy to plan student workshop". Columbia College. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  10. ^ "Ken Nordine, 'Word Jazz' Creator, Dies at 98". KQED. 16 February 2019. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Ken Nordine dies at 98;radio announced and influential 'word jazz' artist". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  12. ^ "Various – Stay Awake (Various Interpretations Of Music From Vintage Disney Films)". Discogs. 1988. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  13. ^ a b c d "The New Word Jazz of Ken Nordine". LA Times. Retrieved October 6, 2018.
  14. ^ a b "Grateful Dead Hour No. 272". 17 August 2011. Retrieved October 6, 2018.
  15. ^ "Dead of the Day:March 11 1993". Retrieved October 6, 2018.
  16. ^ Sisario, Ben (7 May 2007). "High Line Festival – David Bowie". New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2018.
  17. ^ "Beryl Nordine obituary". Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  18. ^ Kogan, Rick (February 16, 2019). "Ken Nordine, 98, dies. Chicago creator of word jazz, with a 'voice that could give you the chills'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  19. ^ Fearless Frank (1967) at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  20. ^ Borrelli, Christopher (October 19, 2012). "'Word Jazz' pioneer Ken Nordine gets closer look". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  21. ^ Smith, Ken (1999). Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945-1970. New York: Blast Books. p. 137. ISBN 0-922233-21-7.
  22. ^ "Ken Nordine's "My Baby"". Archived from the original (MP3) on April 23, 2015. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  23. ^ "Will Ken Nordine Ever Grow Up?". Chicago Reader. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  24. ^ "RIP Maurice Sendak". 8 May 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  25. ^ "Sesame Street was brought to you today". Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  26. ^ "Revolution" NEWTEK Video Toaster Demo Reel 1991 on YouTube
  27. ^ a b c "From the Crates:Ken Nordine". 7 May 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g "Jazz Profiles:Ken Nordine". 16 April 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  29. ^ "Ken Nordine:Word Jazz: A Transparent Mask". Jazz Times. Retrieved October 6, 2018.


  • Marciniak, Vwadek P., Politics, Humor and the Counterculture: Laughter in the Age of Decay (New York etc., 2008).
  • Stephenson, Gregory, Speaking Volumes: Ken Nordine's Word Jazz. (Heidelberg: Ober Limbo Verlag, 2019.)

External links[edit]