Exhibit at cultural center will tell story of Red Bank native Count Basie


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The T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, 94 Drs James Parker Blvd., Red Bank, will open its doors and front lawn on Sept. 25 for “A Love Letter to Count Basie: From The Great Migration to The Harlem Renaissance,” an exhibit that illuminates the Red Bank-born musical giant William “Count” Basie (1904-84).

The exhibit will also pay homage to some of the most important eras from the Great Migration to the Harlem Renaissance, according to a press release.

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A VIP opening reception will be held on the center’s front lawn. Attendees will be escorted inside the center to view the exhibit and featured items from 6-9 p.m.

Morgan Stanley is the lead sponsor of an educational experience that promotes excellence in black history and culture, according to the press release.

More than 1,000 Basie artifacts are archived at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, Newark.

This is the first time the collection – known formally as the William “Count” and Catherine Basie papers and artifacts – will be shared publicly since its 2018 acquisition by the institute. The collection is the only body of materials that traces directly to the Basie family and is one of the institute’s largest collections, according to the press release.

“This exhibit is especially fitting considering the racial tension we are experiencing in the nation,” said Gilda Rogers, vice president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation. “Count Basie’s music broke through racial barriers and brought people together during a time of lawful segregation in America.”

Visitors will learn how Basie used his celebrity as an activist, including standing on a picket line in late 1963 as black and white students demanded that Florida State University integrate, according to the press release.

Photographer, artist and former Red Bank resident Alan Burgess, founder of Benduka Arts, Los Angeles, will present a collection of photography exploring scenes from Asbury Park to Ghana.

Burgess was commissioned by the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center to create a Harlem literary mural collage, reflecting the Harlem Renaissance that occurred in the early 20th century.

Burgess is also a contributing writer of the Harlem Renaissance narrative of the exhibit, which shapes the segregated times during which Basie made a name for himself.

The VIP reception for “A Love Letter to Count Basie: From The Great Migration to The Harlem Renaissance,” will take place from 6-9 p.m. Sept. 25.

Tickets are available online for a $50 donation and include a preview of the exhibit, a souvenir book and light fare with beverages. Visit www.tthomasfortuneculturalcenter.org to purchase tickets.

All attendees are required to purchase tickets in advance and select the time slot during which they will attend. Visitors are required to wear a face mask and will not be allowed to view the exhibit without being escorted inside the center, according to the press release.

“A Love Letter to Count Basie: From The Great Migration to The Harlem Renaissance” was created in conjunction with the Institute for Jazz Studies and is sponsored by Morgan Stanley, OceanFirst Bank, Investors Bank, Denholtz Properties, the Community YMCA, Monmouth Arts, Two River Theater and Detour Gallery.

For more information, email info@thomasfortuneculturalcenter.org

Before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic began in New Jersey, musicians, artists, civic leaders and politicians gathered at the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center and kicked off “2020: Year of Basie,” a celebration of Count Basie, by sharing thoughts about the Grammy winner, according to the press release.

Clarence Banks, who joined the Count Basie Orchestra shortly before Basie’s death in 1984, was on hand to share recollections of his interactions with the bandleader and composer.

Dee Askew, who manages the orchestra, was also at the event and spoke.

Dorthaan Kirk, WBGO’s “First Lady” of Jazz, who was named a 2020 NEA Jazz Master, wrote a “Love Letter to Basie” that was shared at the event.

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