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Keter Betts: 1928-2005
Keter Betts

Born: July 22, 1928 in Port Chester, NY
Died: August 6, 2005 in Silver Spring, MD

Beloved veteran bassist

by Steve Monroe
Copyright © 2006 Steve Monroe

An outpouring of affection and warmth from more than 1,000 family members, friends, jazz lovers, arts patrons and others provided a fitting homegoing service for Keter Betts, bass man extraordinaire, Monday, August 15, 2005 at Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.

Betts, 77, the longtime rhythm section anchor for Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald, and performer on more than 200 recordings, passed away at his home in Silver Spring, Md., on August 6, 2005.

Born William Thomas Betts in Port Chester, N.Y., July 22, 1928, is survived by his children William Jr., Derek, Jonathan and twin daughters Jacquelyn and Jennifer. His wife Mildred died in 2000. He is also survived by dear friend Roscoe Dellums, who along with jazz pianists Dr. Billy Taylor and Barry Harris, delivered remembrances of Betts as a kind-hearted, humorous human being and ultimate professional. Ethel Ennis, Tommy Cecil, James King, Steve Novosel, Michael Bowie and Freddie Cole were among the musicians who performed during the service.

Many speakers noted Betts’ lifelong dedication to educating youth about the arts and music and to helping musicians of any age with his expertise. Betts picked up the drums first as a child, and then switched to the bass, when, as he said, the drums proved too cumbersome to move back and forth from his home for gigs. A fan of Duke Ellington bassist Jimmy Blanton, Betts became a part of the New York City jazz scene in the late 1940s and began traveling extensively – eventually around the world – as a much in demand bassist. He played in D.C. clubs in the early 1950s and decided to make the area his home.

Betts was an important mainstay for vocalist Ronnie Wells’ production of the Fish Middleton Jazz Society’s East Coast Jazz Festival in Rockville, performing there every year since the first festival began in 1992. Betts was also a force in getting the Silver Spring Jazz Festival off the ground in 2004 and had been expected to perform there again in 2005; he died one month prior to the event.

Besides gaining fame for playing with Dinah and Ella, Betts was also one of the key purveyors of the bossa nova craze that swept the music world in the 1960’s and lasts as a significant genre of the music. Betts played with Washington’s legendary guitarist Charlie Byrd and saxophonist Stan Getz on the Jazz Samba album that helped popularize Latin jazz. Betts also played with Cannonball Adderley, Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman, Clifford Brown and many other jazz luminaries.

Steve Monroe
Steve Monroe, a Jazz Journalist Association member, is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at


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With 1 reader comment, posted May 9, 2006