Bassist and educator. Born William Thomas Betts on July 22, 1928 in Port Chester, New York; died August 6, 2005 in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Betts studied music, initially drums, in New York City. He received early encouragement from bassist Milt Hinton. After high school, he spent time in Washington D.C. in 1947 and 1948, working with Carmen Leggio and Rick Henderson. A significant early milestone was touring with Earl Bostic from 1949 to September 1951.
From 1951 to 1956 he toured with Dinah Washington, initially with pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Along with drummer Buddy Deppenschmitt, Betts was a member of Charlie Byrd’s trio from 1957 to 1964 and was integral to the introduction of bossa nova to the United States. He participated in the 1962 recording session for the Jazz Samba album.
His longstanding association with Ella Fitzgerald began in October 1964. From 1965 to 1967 he was a member of the house band at Blues Alley, backing all visiting artists. He toured with Fitzgerald again in 1968 and was her primary bassist from 1971 to her death in 1993, reportedly averaging thirty-six weeks on tour annually. He also made numerous local appearances during these years.
Betts taught at Howard University and in Wolf Trap programs for children.