William Hughes, trombonist with Count Basie Orchestra, dies at 87
Updated Jan 23, 6:10 PM; Posted Jan 23, 6:05 PM
William Hughes, 87, retired Trombonist for the Count Basie Orchestra.(Jan Somma)
By Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Longtime West Brighton resident William H. (Bill) Hughes, who played trombone with the world-renowned Count Basie Orchestra, died Jan. 14 in Clove Lakes Health Care and Rehabilitation Center, Castleton Corners. He was 87.
Born March 28, 1930, in Dallas, Texas, he relocated to Washington, D.C., in his adolescence.
Mr. Hughes was introduced to music by his father, Joseph, who also played trombone.
"I'd tag along to rehearsals with him and I thought it might be fun to learn to play," he told the Advance in 2003. "But I never thought of making a career out of music."
Mr. Hughes took up the trombone in junior high school and continued in high school, playing gigs at the local Elks Club with his dad. While he was in his third year as a pharmacy major at Howard University, he got a call from his friends who were playing with the Count Basie Orchestra in New York. A seat in the 17-member orchestra was empty and they had recommended him to Count William Basie.
Mr. Hughes traveled to New York from Washington for the audition.
"I thought I'd be back the next day and that would be the end of it. Boy, was I wrong," he said.
Mr. Hughes credited his wife, Dolores, for urging him to stick with music as a career.
"When I asked her what should I do, she said to me, 'Not many people get a chance to do what they love to do and get paid for it.' It hasn't made me a millionaire, but it's certainly had its rewards."
Mr. Hughes began his career with the band in 1953 and settled in West Brighton approximately a decade later.
As a valued member of the Count Basie Orchestra, Mr. Hughes traveled the globe, entertaining crowds at world-famous festivals and venues, and performing for royal families.
Mr. Hughes also performed and recorded with noted vocalists, including Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Eckstine, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams.
After working in the orchestra for 57 years, Mr. Hughes retired in 2010.
In his leisure time, he enjoyed solving crossword puzzles, fishing, watching baseball, reading and spending time with family and friends.
In addition to his wife of 65 years, Dolores, surviving are his daughter, Gwendolyn Hughes; his son, Steven Hughes; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
His son, David, died in 2014.
Visitation will be held Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Stradford Home for Funerals Home, West Brighton, and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Mount Sinai United Christian Church, New Brighton. A service will follow at 1 p.m. Arrangements include cremation.