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Institute of Jazz Studies Receives “Save America’s Treasures” Grant to Conserve/Preserve Count Basie Collection

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The Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) at Rutgers University–Newark recently received a $443,500 “Save America’s Treasures” grant from the National Park Service, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Over a three-year period, IJS will use the grant and matching funds it currently is raising to stabilize, conserve, and ensure the long-term preservation of the William J. “Count” and Catherine Basie papers and artifacts acquired by IJS in 2018. The roughly 500-cubic-foot collection, consisting of more than 1,000 artifacts, is unparalleled in its size and thorough documentation of Count Basie’s life and career. It includes personal and professional papers and photographs; moving image and audio recordings with unique and previously unreleased content; scrapbooks; ephemera; artwork; select home furnishings; awards; honors; apparel and accessories; and Basie’s piano and organ.

“We greatly appreciate receiving funding from the National Park Service,” said IJS Executive Director Wayne Winborne. “Count Basie is recognized as one of the giants of jazz, a global icon, and still one of the most influential, popular, and revered figures in American music. His collection is an extremely important resource for researchers in jazz, music, American post-war history, and American culture (especially African-American culture), and is critical for scholars, educators, writers, filmmakers, students, and the general public because of its breadth and depth,” Winborne added. “The collection documents the vast impact of Count Basie’s enduring and storied career in jazz and American history and also provides an incomparable view of his family life. We are grateful the National Park Service understands the urgent need to conserve and preserve this precious collection to eliminate the risk of any permanent damage or loss.”

Approximately 45 percent of the materials require substantial conservation for long-term preservation. The remaining 55 percent of the materials need less intensive treatment. All the items require re-housing and permanent storage fixtures to ensure the collection can be stored securely with IJS’s other archival holdings. IJS will use a small portion of the “Save America’s Treasures” funding to hire a curatorial consultant to provide guidance in prioritizing the objects to be sent for conservation treatment.

IJS anticipates the Basie collection will become one of the most heavily used among its holdings given Count Basie’s importance in music history, the millions of fans and interested scholars of his music worldwide, and the frequent inquiries IJS receives as to the status of the collection and requests for loans.

Materials Featured in Two Exhibits

Presently, artifacts from the collection are on loan and will be unveiled at a socially distanced, in-person exhibit hosted by the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center in Count Basie’s hometown, Red Bank, New Jersey. “A Love Letter to Count Basie: From the Great Migration to the Harlem Renaissance,” spotlights the life and music of Count Basie and pays homage to important eras starting from the Great Migration through the Harlem Renaissance. Items on loan from IJS include one of Count Basie’s captain’s hat; a pair of shoes; a John F. Kennedy tie tack; cufflinks; publicity photos; and digitized copies of music, concert programs, flyers, photos, press materials, and magazine clippings.

“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.”

Like today’s entertainers, Count Basie used his celebrity platform for activism, including standing on the picket line with African-American and white students to demand integration at Florida State University.

The VIP opening and reception for the exhibit are scheduled for Sept. 25, 6-9 p.m. Tickets are available online for a $50 donation and include a preview of the exhibit, a souvenir book, light fare, and beverages. Visit countbasie.eventbrite.com to purchase tickets. Questions about the exhibit can be emailed to info@thomasfortuneculturalcenter.org. The exhibit will be open to the public through Dec. 31, 2020.

IJS also recently shared with the GRAMMY Museum digitized materials from the collection to use in its online Count Basie exhibit. To access the exhibit, visit their website.