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Bill Lee (musician)

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Title: Bill Lee (musician)  
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Subject: Spike Lee, Bringing It All Back Home, Deeds, Not Words, The Peter, Paul and Mary Album, Freak (film)
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Bill Lee (musician)

Bill Lee
Birth name William James Edwards Lee III
Also known as William J. E. Lee
Born (1928-07-23) July 23, 1928
Snow Hill, Alabama, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Composer, Conductor, Actor
Instruments Double Bass, Bass Guitar
Years active 1952-present
Labels Columbia Records
Associated acts Aretha Franklin, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins

William James Edwards "Bill" Lee III[1] (born July 23, 1928) is an American musician. He has played the bass for many artists including 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.[2] He is the father of Spike Lee.

Life and career

Lee was born in Snow Hill, Alabama, the son of Alberta Grace (Edwards), a concert pianist, and Arnold Wadsworth Lee, a musician.[3] With his first wife, Jackie, he had five children, including the famed film director Spike Lee (born 1957), still photographer David Lee (born 1961), actress Joie Lee (born 1962), and filmmaker Cinqué Lee (born 1966) and has composed original music for many of his son's films, including She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing and Mo' Better Blues. With his second wife, Susan, he has one son, Arnold Lee, who plays alto saxophone.[4]

Drug arrest

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.[5] Lee would later say of his arrest, "I'm glad I was arrested, It woke me up."[6]

Difficulties in relationship with Spike Lee

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 interracial 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."

Bad feelings intensified with Jungle Fever, Spike Lee's film on White-Black romantic relationships.[6] "That's directly talking about me and my wife in a negative way," said Bill Lee, who has a son, Arnold Tone Kaplan Lee, by his present wife.[6] Mrs. Lee has said, "I've never been a Spike Lee fan."[6] In 1992, when Bill Lee asked his son for a few thousand dollars to cover household expenses, Spike turned him down "and his attitude was very insulting," said Bill Lee in 1994.[6]

Asked if he would give his side of the story, Spike Lee stated, "Why should I dignify comments my father said, or play it out in a public forum?"[6]

Noise difficulties with neighbor

In 2013 it was reported that Bill Lee and his wife had had 17 noise violation complaints over the previous 3 years for loud music in their house in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Most, if not all, of the complaints had come from a single neighbor.[7]

Film work

  • Music director and performer on the song "Nola", She's Gotta Have It (also see below), Island, 1986.
  • Music conductor of Natural Spiritual Orchestra, School Daze (also see below), Columbia, 1988.
  • Music conductor of Natural Spiritual Orchestra, Do the Right Thing (also see below), Universal, 1989.
  • Music director, Mo' Better Blues (also see below), Universal, 1990.

Film appearances

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

Stage work

  • (With Stuart Scharf) Music arranger, A Hand is on the Gate, Longacre Theatre, New York City, 1966.

Television appearances

  • Has appeared on the television show Today and Harry Belafonte television specials.

Album appearances

Film music

  • Score, She's Gotta Have It, Island, 1986.
  • Score, and songs "Straight and Nappy", "Be One", and "Wake Up Suite", School Daze, Columbia, 1988.
  • Score, Do the Right Thing, Universal, 1989.
  • "Mo' Better Blues" and "Again Never", Mo' Better Blues, Universal,1990.
  • Composer of score for the short film "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads."

Stage music

  • Contributor. Yes, God is Real, Apollo Theatre, New York City, 1988.


  • 'Composer. The Depot, One Mile East, Baby Sweets, The Quarter, The Rabbi, Monica, Juan Valdez and the children's opera Little Johnny.


  1. ^ Spike Lee Biography (1956?-)
  2. ^ Williams, P. (2004). Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, 1960-1973 (2nd edition ed.). Omnibus Press. p. 138.  
  3. ^ Bill Lee Biography (1928-)
  4. ^ Kilgannon, Corey (July 25, 2008). "It's Spike's 80-Year-Old Father".  
  5. ^ "Spike Lee's Father Is Arrested In Heroin Case and Is Freed".  
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Spike Lee falls out with jazzman dad Bill Lee over mixed marriage".  
  7. ^ "One Man’s Music Is His Neighbor’s Headache".  

External links

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