Count Basie Photography

Count Basie

William James “Count” Basie was a jazz pianist, organist, composer, and one of the most pre-eminent bandleaders of the swing era. Basie studied music as a child and started performing with a touring vaudeville act in his teens. In 1927, Basie was first introduced to the big-band sound that would later become his legacy.

In 1935, Basie formed the Count Basie Orchestra, which was highly acclaimed for its remarkable soloists and an outstanding rhythm section. They had several hits during the ’30s and ’40s, including the signature piece “One O’Clock Jump”—which was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. He earned nine Grammys throughout his career and made history in 1958 by becoming the first African-American Grammy Award recipient.

During the 1960s and ’70s, Basie collaborated with iconic singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sarah Vaughan. The pioneering “King of Swing” lead his big band for almost 50 years—recording over 480 albums—and, despite deteriorating health, continued to perform until just a month before his death in 1984.

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