Bill Lee (musician)

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.

Bill Lee
Birth nameWilliam James Edwards Lee III
Also known asWilliam J. E. Lee
Born (1928-07-23) July 23, 1928 (age 91)
Snow Hill, Alabama, U.S.
Occupation(s)Composer, conductor, actor
InstrumentsDouble bass, bass guitar
Years active1952–present
LabelsColumbia Records
Associated actsAretha Franklin, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Terence Blanchard

Personal lifeEdit

Lee was born in Snow Hill, Alabama, the son of Alberta Grace (Edwards), a concert pianist, and Arnold Wadsworth Lee, a musician.[2] With his first wife, Jackie, he had five children, including the 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.[3]

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

Relationship with Spike LeeEdit

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."[citation needed] Bad feelings intensified with Jungle Fever, Spike Lee's film on interracial romantic relationships.[5]


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.[6]

Film musicEdit


  • 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.

Stage workEdit

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



  1. ^ "Spike Lee Biography (1956?-)".
  2. ^ "Bill Lee Biography (1928-)".
  3. ^ Kilgannon, Corey (July 25, 2008). "It's Spike's 80-Year-Old Father". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2013.
  4. ^ "Spike Lee's Father Is Arrested In Heroin Case and Is Freed". The New York Times. October 26, 1991. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Williams, P. (2004). Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, 1960-1973 (2nd ed.). Omnibus Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-84449-095-0.

External linksEdit