Bill Lee (musician)

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Bill Lee
Birth nameWilliam James Edwards Lee III
Also known asWilliam J. E. Lee
Born (1928-07-23) July 23, 1928 (age 94)
Snow Hill, Alabama, U.S.
Occupation(s)Composer, conductor, actor
Instrument(s)Double bass, bass guitar
Years active1952–present
LabelsColumbia Records

William James Edwards Lee III[1] (born July 23, 1928) is an American musician. He is the father of Spike Lee and Joie Lee. He has composed original music for many of his son's films, including She's Gotta Have It (1986), School Daze (1988), Do the Right Thing (1989) and Mo' Better Blues (1990). Lee was involved in many releases from the Strata-East jazz record label, including directing the 1980 album The New York Bass Violin Choir.

Personal life[edit]

Lee was born in Snow Hill, Alabama, the son of Alberta Grace (Edwards), a concert pianist, and Arnold Wadsworth Lee, a musician.[2] In 1951, he graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He married his college sweetheart who was enrolled at a neighboring college, Jacqueline (Jackie) Shelton, a 1954 Spelman College graduate.[3][4] With his first wife, Jackie, he had four children; film director Spike Lee (born 1957), still photographer David Lee (born 1961), actress Joie Lee (born 1962), and filmmaker Cinqué Lee (born 1966). With his second wife, Susan, he has one son, Arnold Lee, who plays alto saxophone.[5]

Lee was arrested on October 25, 1991 in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn for carrying a small bag of heroin during a police drug sweep of a park near his home.[6] Lee would later say of his arrest, "I'm glad I was arrested, It woke me up."[7]

Relationship with Spike Lee[edit]

Though Bill Lee scored his son's first four movies, they had a falling out shortly after the arrest on drug charges. "I don't have anything to do with Spike now," Lee told New York Newsday in 1994. "We haven't talked for two years."

Bill Lee has said their problems started with his son's intolerance of his second marriage. The family feud began in 1976, when Spike Lee's mother Jacquelyn died of cancer and Susan Kaplan moved in with Bill. Spike has been quoted as saying, "my mother wasn't even cold in her grave."[8] Bad feelings intensified with Jungle Fever, Spike Lee's film on interracial romantic relationships, as Bill Lee's second marriage was to a white woman.[7]


Lee has played the bass for many artists including Chris Anderson, Cat Stevens, Harry Belafonte, Chad Mitchell Trio, Gordon Lightfoot, Aretha Franklin, Odetta, Simon and Garfunkel, Ian & Sylvia, Tom Rush, Burt Bacharach, Peter, Paul and Mary, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Carolyn Hester, John Lee Hooker, Josh White, Duke Ellington, Malvina Reynolds, Eric Bibb, The Clancy Brothers and Bob Dylan. On the original release of Dylan's classic song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," Lee, on bass guitar, is the only musician performing other than Dylan himself.[9] On Gordon Lightfoot's song Oh, Linda (recorded 1964), Lee is also the only musician other than Lightfoot's voice.[10]

Film music[edit]

  • Music director and performer on the song "Nola", She's Gotta Have It, Island, 1986.[11][12][13]
  • Music conductor of Natural Spiritual Orchestra, School Daze, Columbia, 1988.[13]
  • Music conductor of Natural Spiritual Orchestra, Do the Right Thing, Universal, 1989.[14]
  • Music director, Mo' Better Blues, Universal, 1990.[15]
  • Composer of score for the short film Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.[16]


  • Sonny Darling, She's Gotta Have It, Island, 1986.
  • Bassist in the Phyllis Hyman Quartet, School Daze, Columbia, 1988.
  • Father of the Bride, Mo' Better Blues, Universal, 1990.



  1. ^ "Spike Lee Biography (1956?-)".
  2. ^ "Bill Lee Biography (1928-)".
  3. ^
  4. ^ "'Standing on the Shoulders of Those Who Came Before Me'". February 2009.
  5. ^ Kilgannon, Corey (July 25, 2008). "It's Spike's 80-Year-Old Father". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2013.
  6. ^ "Spike Lee's Father Is Arrested In Heroin Case and Is Freed". The New York Times. October 26, 1991. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  7. ^ a b "Spike Lee falls out with jazzman dad Bill Lee over mixed marriage". Jet. May 16, 1994. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  8. ^ "COVER STORY : A Kinder, Gentler Spike? : Spike Lee has always seemed to thrive on controversy. But with 'Crooklyn' he's moved into a quieter zone. It's about the daily life of a Brooklyn family in the 1970s. But not just any family--sounds like a family Spike knows pretty well". Los Angeles Times. 1994-04-24. Retrieved 2020-06-05.
  9. ^ Williams, P. (2004). Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, 1960-1973 (2nd ed.). Omnibus Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-84449-095-0.
  10. ^ cn
  11. ^ "Bill Lee – She's Gotta Have It (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (1986, Vinyl)". Discogs. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  12. ^ "She's Gotta Have It - Bill Lee | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Bill Lee". IMDb. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  14. ^ "Do the Right Thing [Score] - Bill Lee | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  15. ^ "Mo' Better Blues (1990) - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983) - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 4 February 2021.

External links[edit]