Basil Fomeen

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Russian-born Basil Fomeen was a busy bandleader, accordionist, and composer, best known as the leader of the Basil Fomeen Orchestra. Born in Kharkoff, Russia, in 1902, he was a music student who left…
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Russian-born Basil Fomeen was a busy bandleader, accordionist, and composer, best known as the leader of the Basil Fomeen Orchestra. Born in Kharkoff, Russia, in 1902, he was a music student who left the country following the Revolution. Arriving in America in 1922, he settled in New York City and subsequently put together his first group, known as the International Orchestra, which played an array of dance music from North and South America and Europe. He remained a popular leader right into the 1940s, and also recorded and performed as an accordionist -- recording for the Victor Record Company, as it was then known, he covered George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" in an accordion duet with Nick Hope in 1928, one of two (along with Gershwin's own, in conjunction with Paul Whiteman) versions of the piece that were available at the time.

As a composer, Fomeen was responsible for pieces such as "Manhattan Gypsy" as well as dozens of Russian-themed songs spread among a brace of albums. According to Elena Bradunas in Folklife Center News, Fomeen also invented a keyboard instrument known as a basophon, which incorporated piano, harmonium, vibraphone, chimes, and cimbalom. He remained busy into the end of the 1940s, and is probably best known for either his accordion adaptation of the Gershwin piece, or the mention he gets from Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden in the "Young at Heart" episode of The Honeymooners, along with Little Jack Little and Ted Fiorito, as one of the bandleaders who played the Sons of Italy Hall. Fomeen passed away in 1983.