Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
Jazzed in Cleveland Complete Index
Part 2 - Cleveland’s Caty Basie
Catherine Morgan left Cleveland at the age of 16 in 1931 to become a dancer. She joined a very popular vaudeville act, the Whitman Sisters. Catherine Morgan was one of three girls in the dance company who called themselves "The Snake Hips Queens." When they appeared at the Lafayette Theatre in New York City, there was a jazz band from Kansas City on the same bill. The young dancer from Cleveland noticed the young piano player with the Bennie Moten band. But they didn't meet.
By 1935 she was working as a fan dancer at the Club Harlem and again ran into that piano player. This time he poked his head into her dressing room. She screamed, "Hey, somebody come here! That piano player with Bennie Moten's band, I caught him trying to peep behind my fans." He quickly retreated.
She didn't see him again until a year later. By this time he had become the leader of the band and was playing at the Famous Door in New York City. The dancer from Cleveland was working across the street at Leon and Eddie's. She slipped into the Famous Door to listen. Occasionally the piano player would wave, smile or just poke his finger toward her. But they still had never spoken to each other.
Later that summer in Atlantic City she saw him again. He just pointed his finger at her like he was going to shoot her and winked. This time they chatted. After talking with her most of the afternoon, he again pointed his finger and said, "One of these days I'm going to make you my wife!" She shook her head as she left and said, "That bandleader is crazy!" But when she got back to New York, she returned to the club to hear the band and see the leader.
A few months later in Detroit, two of her friends finally introduced her formally to William "Count" Basie. She smiled. He aimed his finger at her and said, "Bam!" It was almost ten years after their paths had first crossed.
In his autobiography, Good Morning Blues, Basie said he married the girl from Cleveland in 1943 in Seattle. Their honeymoon was a string of one-night band appearances.
The Basie band was working in New York when Katy was about to have a baby. She returned to Cleveland and stayed with her parents. Katy and Bill Basie's only child, Diane Basie, was born in Cleveland. He rushed to Cleveland to be with his wife and daughter. Later, when they rejoined Basie in New York, he said he had vivid memories of seeing Katy getting off the plane from Cleveland carrying their baby. He said, "It was a special thrill bringing my family home from the airport that day, Old Base, his wife and daughter."
They moved into an apartment building near Central Park. Former Clevelander Earl Warren and his wife lived in the same building and became Diane's godparents. The baby was baptized by Rev. Adam Clayton Powell a few years before he became a congressman.
As Basie's band became the international standard for swinging jazz, the former dancer from Cleveland was handling many of Count's personal affairs. While he was on the road, she bought their new home in the Jamaica section of Queens. In the 1950s he opened a club called " Count Basie's" at 7th Avenue and 132nd Street. It was losing money until Katy personally took over and turned it into a profitable operation. When Basie's father died, Count was playing in England and Katy made all the necessary arrangements. In his autobiography Count said, "She really knew how to get things done."
In 1960 she was active in the political campaign of John Kennedy and took part in one of the inaugural balls.
Cleveland native Catherine Morgan Basie died in 1983. Basie died a year later.
Copyright 1996 Joe Mosbrook
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