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Keter Betts

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Information about Keter Betts

Profile image of Keter Betts

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Bassist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Brown
Favorite Food:
Spaghetti, Seafood
Favorite Time of Year:
Birthday
Favorite Vacation Spot:
N/A
Favorite Quote:
Thank You.

Birthplace

Born:
7/22/1928
Birth Location:
Port Chester, New York

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Bassist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Brown
Favorite Food:
Spaghetti, Seafood
Favorite Time of Year:
Birthday
Favorite Vacation Spot:
N/A
Favorite Quote:
Thank You.

Birthplace

Born:
7/22/1928
Birth Location:
Port Chester
See how Keter Betts is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Legendary jazz bassist William Thomas "Keter" Betts was born July 22, 1928, in Port Chester, New York. While running an errand for his mother while in the fifth grade, Betts came across a parade. Instead of continuing on his way, he followed the parade all over town, entranced by the music. That incident marked the beginning of his love affair with music.

Starting out on the drums, Betts tired of carrying the set up and down the four floors to his family apartment, and in 1946, he switched to the bass. When Betts was only nineteen, he landed his first professional gig, playing for thirteen weeks in Washington, D.C., with saxophonist Carmen Leggio. After touring the country from 1949 to 1951, Betts met jazz singer Dinah Washington and toured with her from 1951 until 1956. The next five years found Betts working in the hottest clubs in the country and touring Europe and South America with Charlie Byrd and Woody Herman. In 1964, Betts joined up with Ella Fitzgerald for a short tour. He would rejoin her several more times, and their career together would span twenty-four years.

Betts was an instructor of music at Howard University in Washington, D.C., since 1963, and also instructed young adults through various programs, including the Washington Performing Arts Society's Concerts in Schools and Prince George's County's Arts Alive. Despite appearing in more than 100 recordings, it was not until 1998 that Betts released his first solo album, Bass, Buddies & Blues, and followed it up a year later with Bass, Buddies, Blues Beauty Too.

Betts was a member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Big Band and was inducted into the Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame. Betts performed annually at the All-Star Christmas Jazz Jam on Millennium Stage from 2000 to 2004.

Betts passed away on August 6, 2005 at age 77.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Keter Betts's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Keter Betts lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Keter Betts describes how he got his nickname
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Keter Betts describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Keter Betts describes his desire to become a musician
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Keter Betts describes his childhood in Port Chester, New York with his mother and aunts
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Keter Betts describes an early musical gig and his aunts' suspicions about how he earned money
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Keter Betts describes his earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Keter Betts describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Keter Betts describes his childhood personality and dedication to music
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Keter Betts describes hearing the marching band drums and his first snare drum
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Keter Betts describes his teenage development as a drummer
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Keter Betts describes his mother's support of his bass playing
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Keter Betts describes learning independence from his mother
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Keter Betts describes switching from playing drums to playing bass
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Keter Betts describes how being director of the chorus developed his understanding of music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Keter Betts describes being influenced by music in movies
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Keter Betts describes some of the musicians who influenced him in high school
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Keter Betts recounts finding a teacher and buying his first bass
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Keter Betts describes how his bass allows him to express himself
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Keter Betts describes being influenced by Panama Francis and Tommy Flanagan
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Keter Betts describes the beginning of his career as a professional bassist
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Keter Betts describes how playing the drums influenced his bass playing
  • Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Keter Betts describes the quartet he played with in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Keter Betts describes learning to play by practicing in New York jazz clubs
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Keter Betts describes the jazz clubs around U Street in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Keter Betts describes not worrying about money
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Keter Betts describes hearing Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown perform in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Keter Betts describes the African American theater circuit on the East Coast and in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Keter Betts talks about what he learned from bandleaders like Earl Bostic and Cootie Williams
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Keter Betts describes playing with Dinah Washington
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Keter Betts describes his wedding and marriage to Mildred Grady Betts
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Keter Betts describes traveling with Dinah Washington, Charlie Byrd, and Ella Fitzgerald
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Keter Betts describes earning his reputation as a singer's bass player
  • Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Keter Betts describes the hits Dinah Washington had while playing with her
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Keter Betts shares his stories about Dinah Washington, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Keter Betts shares his stories about Dinah Washington, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Keter Betts describes how his personality was affected by growing up an only child
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Keter Betts describes the cause of Dinah Washington's career demise
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Keter Betts describes how singers interpret and project songs through diction
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Keter Betts describes his experience traveling across the United States
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Keter Betts describes ending his touring to take care of his family
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Keter Betts describes traveling to Brazil with Charlie Byrd and discovering the bossa nova
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Keter Betts reflects on the ups and downs of careers in music
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Keter Betts describes his appreciation of Brazilian music and his South American tour in 1961
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Keter Betts describes the racial progress that he witnessed while on tour during his career
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Keter Betts talks about his international tours from 1959 until 1961
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Keter Betts talks about his appreciation of Brazilian music
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Keter Betts describes his experience recording "Jazz Samba" with Stan Getz and the lawsuit that followed
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Keter Betts talks about other musicians who played with Stan Getz and Dinah Washington
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Keter Betts describes recording "Jazz Samba" with Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Keter Betts describes his friendship with Ray Brown and their mutual enjoyment of golf, pt. 1
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Keter Betts describes his friendship with Ray Brown and their mutual enjoyment of golf, pt. 2
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Keter Betts describes his bass-playing style compared to that of Ray Brown
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Keter Betts describes how jazz musicians have aided or ostracized female musicians
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Keter Betts reflects on the experience of making an audience happy during a performance
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Keter Betts describes the types of venues where Ella Fitzgerald performed
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Keter Betts shares his funniest story about performing with Ella Fitzgerald
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Keter Betts describes why he stayed in Ella Fitzgerald's band for twenty-four years
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Keter Betts talks about the eccentricities different singers bring to performances
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Keter Betts describes his experience playing with Ella Fitzgerald
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Keter Betts describes adjusting to the stylistic differences between Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Keter Betts describes his experience touring
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Keter Betts describes playing with Ella Fitzgerald
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Keter Betts talks about Tommy Flanagan leaving Ella Fitzgerald's band
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Keter Betts talks about traveling with Ella Fitzgerald and how performing keeps entertainers young
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Keter Betts talks about playing with Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Keter Betts reflects on how he has enjoyed his career
  • Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Keter Betts describes the security that he and Tommy Flanagan provided for Ella Fitzgerald
  • Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Keter Betts talks about his favorite male vocalists
  • Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Keter Betts describes playing a final concert with Ella Fitzgerald in 1993
  • Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Keter Betts reflects upon the deaths of Ella Fitzgerald, his wife, and his mother
  • Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Keter Betts describes his experience recording his first solo album in 1998
  • Tape: 7 Story: 13 - Keter Betts reflects upon his career as a musician and his plans for retirement
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Keter Betts talks about his plans to keep playing bass after retiring
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Keter Betts reflects upon his regrets
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Keter Betts describes his mother's pride in hearing him play with Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Keter Betts reflects upon his legacy
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Keter Betts lists some of his favorite bassists and reflects on the future of jazz
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Keter Betts plays his bass
  • Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Keter Betts narrates his photographs