Bill Lee (musician)

This article is about the American jazz bassist. For the voice-over musician, see Bill Lee (singer).
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, United States
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, Terence Blanchard

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


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]

Lee was involved in many releases from the influential jazz record label, Strata-East Records, including directing the 1980 album The New York Bass Violin Choir.

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]

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, "Hell No. Why should I dignify comments my father said, or play it out in a public forum?"[6]

Film work

Film appearances

Stage work

Television appearances


As sideman

Film music

Stage music



  1. Spike Lee Biography (1956?-)
  2. Williams, P. (2004). Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, 1960-1973 (2nd ed.). Omnibus Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-84449-095-0.
  3. Bill Lee Biography (1928-)
  4. Kilgannon, Corey (July 25, 2008). "It's Spike's 80-Year-Old Father". The New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2013.
  5. "Spike Lee's Father Is Arrested In Heroin Case and Is Freed". The New York Times. October 26, 1991. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Spike Lee falls out with jazzman dad Bill Lee over mixed marriage". Jet. May 16, 1994. Retrieved July 15, 2013.

External links

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