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Authority record
Conductor, Music

Basie, Count, 1904-1984

  • LC81016968
  • Person
  • 1904-08-21 - 1984-04-26

William James "Count" Basie is one of America's best-known jazz musicians. He was a pianist, bandleader, and composer. As a teenager and young adult in the 1920s, Basie met and performed with a variety of recognized names in Harlem: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller, among others. In 1929 he joined up with Bennie Moten in Kansas City, acting as both pianist and co-arranger for the band. When Moten died in 1936, Basie formed his own band, largely from its former members. It was this core group that ended up improvising their way into one of Basie's early hits, "One O'Clock Jump," and brought them to the attention of record producers.
After an extended engagement in Chicago that allowed "Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm" to refine their sound, Basie moved the band back to Harlem. They played at the Woodside Hotel, the Roseland Ballroom, and eventually the Savoy. Although Basie hired arrangers for the band, the group often worked out their numbers in rehearsals and then performed the partially improvised pieces from memory. In 1939, the band did a cross-country tour and performed on the West Coast for the first time. Although World War II caused a lot of member turnover, Basie remained famous for keeping an enthusiastic band that played with infectious good cheer and featured a continuous string of talented jazz instrumentalists and singers. However, declining interest in swing and traditional big band sound led him to disband the group after the war ended.
But Basie continued to perform with other groups, and in 1952 he ended up reforming his group with new members, working strains of bebop, rhythm and blues, and early rock'n'roll into his arrangements and working as a more organized ensemble than he had previously. In 1958, Basie headed to Europe with the new band. Post-war Europe loved jazz and had already welcomed a number of American expatriates who were happy to perform with Basie's band. The 1960s were filled with tours, television appearances, and recording with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett. Basie maintained the classic big band sound into the 1980s despite music trends and more changes in personnel. He died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 79. The band, led by former members, continues to record and perform today.

Charles, Ray, 1918-2015

  • LC91026368
  • Person
  • 1918-09-13 - 2015-04-06

Raymond Charles Offenberg, known professionally as Ray Charles (and who jokingly referred to himself as "the other Ray Charles" for much of his later career), was an American singer, arranger, and conductor. He is most famous for working with Perry Como as the arranger and director for the Ray Charles Singers, Como's backing group for over 30 years. He also served as the musical consultant for the Kennedy Center Honors gala.
Charles was born in Chicago. By the time he was in high school he was already the host of a 15-minute radio show. He attended the Chicago Musical College and continued singing, arranging, and conducting for various choral groups and radio shows. He changed his name to Ray Charles around the same time he was drafted, in 1944. During World War II Charles wrote and arranged music for the women's branch of the Naval Reserve (WAVES) and trained the WAVES "Singing Platoons". After the war he went right back to working on the radio; among other roles, he worked as an arranger-conductor for "The Big Show", one of the last well-known radio variety shows.
The bulk of Charles's career was spent working with Perry Como, beginning in about 1948. He arranged music for and conducted Como's backing group, which would become known as the Ray Charles Singers. The group, which was not a consistent group of vocalists, also recorded a number of albums in the 1960s that arguably founded the "easy listening" genre. They were also responsible for several popular commercial jingles. Charles also arranged music for a variety of television specials during the same period.
Beginning in 1982, Charles was also acted as a musical consultant for the Kennedy Center Honors gala, selecting and arranging the songs for the annual program. He did so every year through 2014. He also served in a similar capacity for over a decade's worth of Independence Day and Memorial Day concerts for PBS. He also wrote the song "Fifty Nifty United States," which many elementary school children continue to learn.
Charles died of cancer at the age of 96.

Kennedy, Bob

  • LC2008153153
  • Person
  • 1922 - 2008-06-26