Bill Lee, 80, And Going Strong
For the last 49 years, Mr. Lee has been a proud resident of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. During this time, he composed the original scores for Spike Leeâ€™s films Do the Right Thing, School Daze, She's Gotta Have It, and Moâ€™ Better Blues
In celebration of his 80th birthday, one of New York's most prolific living jazz legends, Bill Lee – who is also the father of filmmaker Spike Lee – was honored with a lifetime achievement award at City Hall "for his tremendous contributions to the cultural life of our nation."
As Council Member Letitia James explained, William James Edwards Lee III – affectionately known as "Bill" Lee – was born on July 23, 1928 in Snow Hill, Alabama. His mother, Alberta G. Lee, a concert pianist, and his father, Arnold W. Lee, also a musician, instilled in him a passion and skill for music that has been in the family for generations.
After finishing high school, Mr. Lee attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he studied with another great musician, Mr. Willis Laurence James. Lee then moved to Chicago and began playing bass violin with countless musicians, including Chris Anderson, Johnny Griffin, John Gilmore, Gene Ammons and Betty Carter.
In 1959, Mr. Lee moved to New York City, where he began working with folk musicians like Josh White and Odetta, which led to important introductions for his musical and theatrical writings.
For the last 49 years, Mr. Lee has been a proud resident of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. During this time, he composed the original scores for Spike Lee’s films Do the Right Thing, School Daze, She's Gotta Have It, and Mo’ Better Blues. He also wrote 11 folk-jazz operas, movie scores and more while cementing his reputation as one of the country’s greatest living jazz legends. He recorded with Billy Wallace, Frank Strozier, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seegar, Chris Anderson, Johnny Griffin, Chad Mitchell, Ray Bryant and Judy Collins, to name only a few. Furthermore, he wrote for Max Roach, Richard Davis and Booker Little and also appeared with other icons like Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Mr. Lee is also the founder of the New York Bass Violin Choir and a member of the Mo’ Better Blues Quartet. He continues to mentor up-and-coming musicians.
As Bill Lee is always eager to make clear, despite his extraordinary musical contributions, he is even prouder of his family. With his wife, Jackie, now deceased, he has five children: Spike, Chris, David, Joie and Cinqué. Mr. Lee and his present wife, Susan, are the parents of Arnold VI, who is now a senior at the world-renowned Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.
"Whether recording work with other musicians, composing the scores for many of his son's films, or performing with other giants of jazz, Mr. Lee has enriched us all with his presence," the proclamation states. "He has deepened everyone's love for jazz and promoted harmony throughout our City."
In accepting the proclamation, Mr. Lee told the gathering that he was "honored to be honored." He said, too, that while, at age 80, he has slowed down, he is still hard at work making new music.
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