On August 21, 1904, William James Basie is born at his parents’ house on Mechanic Street in Red Bank, NJ. Basie's father, Harvey Lee Basie, worked as a coachman and caretaker for a local judge; his mother, Lilly Ann Childs Basie, earned some money by taking in washing and ironing. A brother who was about eight years older, Leroy. He died when William was a young boy. His father played the mellophone and his mother gave William his first lessons on the family piano; later she paid for her son to take piano lessons with Miss Vandevere.
Besides assisting both his parents with their job, William helps out at the Palace Theater in Red Bank. He learns to operate movie reels and the spotlight for the vaudeville shows.
The story goes that one night the piano player of the Palace Theater - who lived in New York - did not make it to the theatre. Basie offered to sit in, but his offer was declined by the manager. Once the film had begun though, Basie sneaked into the pit and accompanied it nonetheless. He was invited to play the evening show as well that day.
Basie didn't start out on the piano, his first love was for the drums; his father even bought him a set of traps. After hearing Sonny Greer, a young drummer from nearby Long Branch, though, Basie wisely left the drums for the piano. (Greer, of course, would become famous as the original drummer of Duke Ellington's orchestra.)
Basie quit school after his junior year in high school and moved to Asbury Park with his saxophone playing friend Elmer Williams. After a bad autumn start, they returned with more success the following summer, leaving for New York in 1924.