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Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of William "Count" Basie and Acknowledging His Contributions to Jazz and Swing Music

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BURNS. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the resolution (H. Res. 778) commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of William "Count" Basie and acknowledging his important contributions to jazz and swing music.


Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Woolsey), for yielding me this time and for her role in bringing this resolution up on the suspension list today.

It is with distinct honor and pleasure that I stand before this Chamber today to speak in support of House Resolution 778. Count Basie was born in my district and spent the first 20 years or so of his life in my district, and I would like to kind of recount some of the events that occurred in my district during those early years.

This bill recognizes and celebrates the incredible contribution that William "Count" Basie has made to jazz and swing music. Furthermore, it is only fitting we acknowledge his pivotal role this year, marking the 100th anniversary of his birth.

He was born, as was stated previously by my colleagues, on August 21, 1904, in his parents' home on Mechanic Streets in Red Bank, New Jersey, which has been in my district the entire time I have been in Congress, and even prior to the time I represented the area. And Count Basie is highly regarded in our area, as well as obviously nationally, as one of the best and most influential musicians and composers of the last century.

The city of Red Bank, where he was born, gave the young William Basie his first exposure to music and the title of one of the most famous tunes associated with his band, "The Kid From Red Bank"; and it is evidence the city of Red Bank has had on his early musical development.

As a child, Basie would do chores at the Palace Theater in Red Bank so that he could get in free. One day when the Palace's house piano player was unable to travel from New York, Basie offered to fill in for him, but the manager declined the offer. Basie simply waited until the picture had started, then snuck into the pit and accompanied the film anyway on the piano. He was invited back to play the evening show.

Years later, Basie would trace his lifelong interest in the organ to his experiences at the Lyric Theater, another theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, where he would listen to the organ played by Henry La Ross.

Many are surprised to learn that William Basie's first love was not the piano, but rather the drums. However, his aspiration went towards a different direction when he met Sonny Greer, a young talented drummer from nearby Long Branch, New Jersey, which is actually my hometown. The young men quickly realized where their true respective talents really laid, and the drums and piano duo went on to win first place in an Asbury Park piano competition, one of the first of many honors bestowed upon Basie throughout his career.

Asbury Park is also in my district, Mr. Speaker, and some of my colleagues know that Asbury Park was made famous also by Bruce Springstein, another one of our constituents.

Count Basie was awarded with a total of nine Grammys throughout his career, including the Grammy Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1981. In addition, he was the recipient of an American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1983, and in 1996, he was bestowed the honor of a Commemorative Stamp by the United States Postal Office. And I assure Members myself and many others in my district have lots of those stamps.

Today, the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey stands as a testament to the life, career and accomplishments of this innovative and ingenious musician. In 1984, the historic theater, which first opened its doors in 1926, was renamed to honor Count Basie. Much of the theater has been preserved and remains true to its original appearance. The theater is now owned and operated by Count Basie Theater, Inc., a nonprofit corporation formed solely to operate the theater for the benefit of the community, and one cannot help but think this is exactly how the "Kid from Red Bank" would have liked it.

Mr. Speaker, once again I ask my colleagues to vote in favor of this resolution and pay tribute to the life and career of an individual who revolutionized the face of jazz music and to this day stands as a model for all those who have followed him.


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