Rutgers-Newark has announced the acquisition of a large collection of artifacts of the life of legendary musician and band leader William “Count” Basie. The collection will be housed at the Institute of Jazz Studies in the Dana Cotton Library, the largest collection of jazz music-related materials in the world. At a livestreamed press conference on June 13, the university announced the acquisition which includes scrapbooks, photos, manuscripts, and letters, as well as personal items ranging from clothing and housewares to firearms and Grammy awards. Also included is a collection of items belonging to Basie’s wife, Catherine, to whom he was married from 1940 until her death in 1983, just one year before his own death.
Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey and spent his formative years in the area. During his early career he often played at venues in nearby cities like Asbury Park before moving to Harlem in the 1920s. He rose to fame while performing in the Midwest, in Kansas City and later Chicago, before returning to New York in 1937. Basie sometimes collaborated with singer and actor Paul Robeson, himself a Princeton, New Jersey native and Rutgers University alumnus. Both men resided at the famous 555 Edgecombe Avenue building in Washington Heights, New York, which became a fashionable address for the city’s elite African American residents.
“We are happy to have a New Jersey native come home,” remarked Wayne Wilbourne, executive director of the Institute of Jazz Studies in his opening remarks. The university hopes the collection will be of interest not only to scholars but to music fans and the local community. An archived video of the livestream is available on the Rutgers-Newark Facebook page.