Bill Lee, Jazz Musician and Father to Spike Lee, Dies at 94 

Bill Lee, a prolific jazz musician and bassist, has died. He was 94. 

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The esteemed instrumentalist and songwriter who has accompanied Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Aretha Franklin, and more, passed away Wednesday morning (May 24) at his home in Brooklyn, New York. 

His son Spike Lee, an American filmmaker and actor, confirmed the death. 

Lee began his music career in the late ’50s, diving into the rich music scene in Chicago and Atlanta. He moved to New York in 1959, where he performed poetry and original songs throughout the city in smoky clubs, especially Greenwich Village. His career spanned more than six decades, selling more than 250 records. 

Lee went on to write the soundtracks for his son’s first four feature films – She’s Gotta Have It (1986), School Daze (1988), Do The Right Thing (1989), and Mo’ Better Blues (1990). He also starred in the productions, tackling minor roles alongside his daughter Joie Lee. Lee scored his son’s first film Joe’s Bed–Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, at Lincoln Center’s New Directors/ New Films Festival. Despite the positive praise and success, “money” and “family matters” got between their father-son relationship. 

Spike went on to direct more than 30 movies. While becoming a prominent name in the cinematic space, his father founded and directed the New York Bass Violin Choir. He also created a string of operas inspired by his upbringing in Alabama. 

Spike Lee honored his father with a heartwarming tribute. He celebrated his father’s work and expressed his condolences to Tina Turner, the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, who passed on the very same day

“My Father, BILL LEE Played Bass On BOB DYLAN’S Classic Song IT’S ALL OVER NOW, BABY BLUE On His Album, BRINGING IT ALL HOME. This Morning May 24th, My Father Made His Transition. Today Is Also The Birthdate Of BOB DYLAN. Today Is Also The Birthdate Of Jackson Lewis Lee Who Is The Son Of Tonya Lewis Lee And Me, Brother Of Satchel Lee, And The Grandson Of Daddy,” he wrote. “Also Must Give Love To Our Sista TINA TURNER Who Left Us Today On This, May 24th,2023. WHEW LAWD. What A Day.” 

Spike previously told the New York Times that he credits his father for educating him on jazz – a genre he grew to love. 

“Everything I know about jazz I got from my father,” the award-winning director shared with the publication. “I saw his integrity, how he was not going to play just any kind of music, no matter how much money he could make.”

Born William James Edwards Lee, the jazz player married Jacquelyn Shelton Lee and the couple had five children together. His wife died in 1976. Lee remarried Susan Kaplan and had one son, Arnold Christopher.

He is survived by his wife, sons Spike, David, Cinque, Arnold, daughter Joie, brother A. Clifton Lee, and two grandchildren. 

(Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)

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