William F. Lee III: Former Music School Dean Introduced Innovative Programs at UM

An accomplished jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator, William Franklin Lee III introduced innovative programs at UM and attracted scores of students who went on to stardom in the industry.
Jazz programs at the university level were virtually nonexistent when William Franklin Lee III became dean of the University of Miami’s School of Music in 1964. Realizing that jazz was not a passing fad but a legitimate art form, Lee quickly infused it into UM’s curriculum, creating a jazz program in the mid-1960s that eventually grew into a full-fledged department.

But it was not only jazz that Lee helped bring to UM. An accomplished jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator, he also introduced a music merchandising program and bucked other trends by offering instruction in instruments such as the saxophone and electric guitar. “He was a visionary,” says Whit Sidener, chair of the Department of Studio Music and Jazz at UM’s Frost School of Music, who came to the University to teach in 1972, eventually becoming close friends with “Bill,” as he was called by many. “A lot of the programs he started were emulated by other schools.”

Lee, who was dean of UM’s music school from 1964 to 1982, passed away in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, on October 23. He was 82.

A “passionate musician and music educator” is how Shelton G. Berg, the current dean of the Frost School of Music remembers Lee. “He attracted scores of students who went on to stardom in the industry.” Among then, Bruce Hornsby, Jon Secada, and his own son, Will Lee, a bassist best known for his work on the CBS television program “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

Berg was student council president of the University of Houston’s music school in the mid-1970s when he first encountered Lee. The UH music school was in the midst of a search for a new director, and “the council was asked to recommend a candidate, and I fervently lobbied for Bill, who everyone knew was the best dean in the country,” Berg recall. “Bill was brought in for an interview. He was not really interested in leaving Miami, but that visit began my decades-long friendship with Bill.”

Lee was formerly chair of the music department at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, before he became the third dean of UM’s School of Music. When he arrived at UM, he moved quickly to improve the program, initiating a seven-year plan that included new undergraduate courses in sacred music, conducting, and music therapy. He started music forums, lectures by guest scholars and composers, sessions on career development, and the concept and practice of juried examinations in music performance. Lee also expanded graduate music programs and hired additional faculty members to meet the needs of increasing enrollments and burgeoning programs.

“There were about 150 students in the music school” when Lee arrived at UM, says Sidener. “He really revitalized the program.”

By 1978, under Lee’s leadership, enrollment had increased to 607 undergraduates and 183 graduate students, and the school offered ten undergraduate degree programs with the additions of music merchandising and music engineering technology (programs that were called the first of their kind in the nation), music therapy, studio music and jazz, accompanying, and musical theatre. The graduate division offered master’s degrees in music education, applied music, theory and composition, musicology, conducting, music therapy, accompanying, music librarianship, jazz pedagogy, music merchandising, jazz performance, and studio arranging and producing. New Ph.D. and D.M.A. programs were also added during Lee’s tenure.

By the time Lee’s tenure as dean ended in 1982, enrollment topped 825, and the school had raised about $18 million, added four new buildings, and constructed a major addition to the Foster Building.

“One of the most remarkable things about him was that he was a fair player in the game of education,” said his eldest son, Will Lee. “He was also the kind of guy who would walk into a bar and hear someone playing who knocked off his socks and would offer him a scholarship on the spot, as he did with [noted jazz guitarist and composer] Pat Metheny.”

His son went on to describe his father “as a real grassroots, organically thinking guy who, with his streetish wisdom, put together a faculty so great that we in the music business now know the University of Miami as a destination for musicians.”

Born February 20, 1929 in Galveston, Texas, Lee expanded UM’s musical influence beyond the Coral Gables campus, helping to introduce an innovative instrumental program at the Henry S. West Laboratory School adjacent to the UM campus. Patricia L. Frost, for whom UM’s music school is now named in honor of her and husband Philip Frost’s generous gift, was principal at West Lab at the time.

“Pat went to Dean Lee with a wild idea of having every student and teacher in her school learn to play an instrument,” Berg says. “It would have been logical for Bill to say that the school was too busy to handle such a request. Instead, he started a vigorous program, parts of which survive today. Pat was extremely grateful, and so the genesis of the Frost naming gift traces to Bill Lee, who brought the Frosts close to the school.”

Bill Hipp, who succeeded Lee as music school dean of UM, describes him as “many people and talents rolled into one person.”

“He played trumpet, double bass, and piano professionally before moving into music administration in higher education,” Hipp says. “He blossomed as dean at UM by surrounding himself with faculty who were capable of taking hold of his innovative ideas and transforming them into distinctive degree programs, some of which were either the very first or among the first in all of higher education. He also invariably had serious research and writing projects on his plate, including his exhaustive definitive work on Stan Kenton.”

Lee retired from UM in 1989 but continued to work in music education at other institutions. Upon his initial retirement, UM acknowledged his contribution to his discipline and to the University by awarding him two permanent titles: Distinguished Professor of Music Theory and Composition Emeritus and Composer in Residence Emeritus. Before he retired, Lee briefly served as UM’s vice president and provost. He is a 1988 inductee of the International Association of Jazz Education’s Jazz Educators Hall of Fame.

Lee earned a bachelor of music and a master of science degree from the University of North Texas College of Music in 1949 and 1950, respectively. In 1956, he earned both a master of music composition and a Ph.D. in music school administration from the University of Texas at Austin.

Lee is survived by sons Will Lee and Robert “Rob” Terry Lee, daughters Patricia “Pat” Lynn Lee and Peggy Ann Lee, and second wife Jacqueline Tyler Lee.

Memorial contributions may be made online to the William F. Lee III Music Scholarship Fund or mailed to UM Frost School of Music, P. O. Box 248165, Coral Gables, FL 33124-7610.