20th Anniversary Screening of "Do The Right Thing"

Source: Stephen Lovekin / Getty

Losing a parent is never an easy thing to deal with, and unfortunately, famed movie director Spike Lee is currently understanding that feeling immensely following the death of his dad, Bill Lee.

In addition to helping give birth to a superstar or two, the late 94-year-old was also a respected jazz composer in his own right that worked with the likes of Bob Dylan and Harry Belafonte as well as on Spike Lee’s hit films Jungle Fever and Do The Right Thing.


Born William James Edwards Lee in Snow Hill, Alabama, the late musician found a niche for jazz by way of many prominent works for Strata-East Records throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. From there, his composer skills expanded far and wide, including playing bass for a who’s-who of Black entertainers that included Odetta Holmes, Duke Ellington and the late Queen Of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin.

More on the illustrious life of Bill Lee below, via the Associated Press:

“Lee died Wednesday at his home in Brooklyn, said Theo Dumont, a publicist for Spike Lee. The younger Lee posted several photos of his father on his Instagram page announcing the death.

Lee was a session bassist who has played on albums by Odetta, Woody Guthrie, Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, John Lee Hooker and Peter, Paul and Mary, among many others. He can be heard on Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and Lightfoot’s ‘Oh, Linda.’ He played on Aretha Franklin’s Columbia album debut in 1960, ‘Aretha.’

Lee wrote the soundtracks to Spike Lee’s ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ ‘School Daze,’ ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘Mo’ Better Blues.’ Bill Lee also appeared in ‘Do the Right Thing.’ Terence Blanchard took over the role starting with ‘Jungle Fever.’”

As many families can relate, Black families in particular, Spike and Bill didn’t always see eye-to-eye and even had a years-long falling out shortly after the 1976 death of Spike’s mom and Bill’s first wife, Jacquelyn Shelton Lee. Spike told the Los Angeles Times back in 1994 that Bill moved in with his new wife, a white woman named Susan Kaplan, so soon after the loss that, in his words, “my mother wasn’t even cold in her grave.” In the same interview, Bill accused Spike of basing the controversial interracial love plot in Jungle Fever on his relationship with Susan.

While we can’t confirm the nature of their relationship before the senior Lee’s death, recent photos over the years allude to the fact that reconciliation was made at some point in the time since. Either way, we pray for the entire Lee family in addition to their loved ones.

RIP Bill Lee. You will be missed by many.


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Bill Lee, Jazz Composer And Spike Lee’s Father, Dies At 94  was originally published on