Name at birth: William James Basie
William "Count" Basie started out playing piano and organ for theater and vaudeville in the 1920s. Influenced by Fats Waller, Basie formed his own big band, playing swing jazz and emphasizing hot soloists like saxophonist Lester Young. During the 1940s and '50s, Basie and his orchestra were one of the most popular big bands in the U.S., with hits like "One O'Clock Jump" and "Jumpin' at the Woodside." Even after the bop era of jazz had overwhelmed swing, Basie had success with smaller bands, continuing to perform and record up to his death in 1984.
Count Basie was the first black male artist to win a Grammy, in 1958… The story goes that an emcee or radio announcer dubbed him "Count," figuring there was already a King (of swing, Benny Goodman), a Duke (Ellington) and an Earl (Hines)… The popular 1966 live album Sinatra at the Sands featured Basie and his orchestra (conducted by Quincy Jones) with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas.