Bill Lee, the jazz composer, bassist, and father of iconic director Spike Lee, has died at his home in Brooklyn on Wednesday morning (May 24), per the New York Times. Although Lee’s cause of death was not shared, he was 94-years-old.
Born on July 23, 1928 in Snow Hill, Alabama, William James Edwards Lee began his music career as a double bassist, performing in Chicago and Atlanta, the latter of which he’d attend prestigious historically Black institution Morehouse College. Lee graduated from Morehouse in 1951, marrying college sweetheart Jacqueline (Jackie) Shelton, who graduated from Spelman College in 1954. With Jackie, Lee had four children, Spike, David, Joie and Cinqué. With his second wife, Susan, Lee would have a fourth son, Arnold.
Upon moving to New York City in 1959, Lee often performed in Greenwich Village, reciting poetry between songs. The musician would contribute session work to folk, jazz and soul artists of the time including Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington and Aretha Franklin. Lee would continue his musicianship through the 1960s, both composing for Max Roach and playing bass on Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
Although Lee refused to trade in his upright bass for an electric model at the turn of the jazz fusion era of the 1970s, by the 1980s, he’d had a resurgence as a composer for Spike Lee’s 1986 breakout film She’s Gotta Have It. Lee would go on to compose for four other of his son’s films, 1988’s School Daze, 1989’s Do the Right Thing and Mo’ Betta Blues.
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