Today is the birthday of William James “Count” Basie (1904-1984).
I am thrilled to learn that the legendary bandleader had a background in both vaudeville and silent pictures. When still a teenager he ran lights in a local vaudeville house and provided musical accompaniment for silent films at a local nickelodeon. In the 1920s, he toured the Keith and TOBA vaudeville circuits and the Columbia Burlesque circuit, with numerous different acts, sometimes as a solo piano players, sometimes as accompanist and musical director for blues singers, dancers, comedians and larger acts like Katie Krippen and Her Kiddies.
After this his scene was nightclubs. From 1929 through 1935 he was piano player with Kansas City based Bennie Moten’s band. In 1936 he formed his own big band, which proved to be so influential through the swing era and the next five decades.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc