Spike Lee announces the death of his jazz bassist father, Bill Lee, aged 94

Written by on May 26, 2023

  • Bill Lee scored a number of the early films of his film-maker son Spike Lee
  • Spike Lee confirmed the death of his jazz bassist father in a brief Instagram post

Director Spike Lee has announced the death of his father Bill Lee, an jazz bassist and composer, at the age of 94 at his home in Brooklyn, New York.

Bill Lee scored many of the early films of his Oscar-winning son and was an acclaimed session musician in his own right.

Spike Lee, 66, confirmed his death in an Instagram post along with photos of his father with Bob Dylan in the recording studio. Lee played bass on Dylan’s 1962 classic It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.

The film director captioned the post: ‘This Morning May 24th My Father Made His Transition … Also Must Give Love To Our Sista TINA TURNER Who Left Us Today On This May 24th,2023. WHEW LAWD. What A Day.’

Director Spike Lee, left, and his father Bill Lee attend a special 20th anniversary screening of Do the Right Thing, in New York, on June 29, 2009
Director Spike Lee, right, and his with sister, screenwriter Joie Lee, left, appear with their father Bill Lee at a screening of Do The Right Thing in New York on June 29, 2014

Bob was known for his composition work and had performed with legendary musicians like Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington and Aretha Franklin.

He was known for the rich tone he could produce from his bass, and was a favorite of music producers. 

The father and son duo worked together on a number of Spike’s early films. Bob scored movies She’s Gotta Have It (1986), School Daze (1988), Do The Right Thing (1989) and Mo’ Better Blues (1990).

Born William James Edwards Lee III in the town of Snow Hill, Alabama, in 1928, he was the son of two musicians and started learning to play instruments from a very early age.

It was at this point Bob became engrossed in jazz music and started to learn the bass while at Morehouse College in Atlanta, despite the school not having a music department.

After graduating from college, the musician sought out the New York and Chicago jazz scenes.

‘New York is the epitome of jazz to me. All the great musicians come here,’ Mr Lee told The Los Angeles Times in a 2012 interview.

He then worked at a musician-owned label Strata-East Records while also founding the New York Bass Violin Choir.

Much of Bob’s early music was influenced by his enslaved ancestors and growing up near former slave quarters. 

Spike Lee confirmed his father’s death in a brief Instagram post. Further information of the death has not yet been made public

After collaborating on his son’s early films, Bob and Spike were estranged after a falling out in the 1990s. Both said the disagreement had been a long time in the coming. The father attributed it to his remarriage to Susan Kaplan.

Bob told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 that he had asked his son to borrow money following an arrest for possession of heroin.

‘I’m glad I was arrested. It woke me up. … Dope was not part of my life until I was 40 years old,’ the musician told the publication. 

In addition to Kaplan and Spike Lee, the elder Lee is survived by his sons, David, Cinque and Arnold; a daughter Joie; a brother, A. Clifton Lee; and two grandchildren.

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