Friends and loved ones to pay tribute to prominent musician Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Lee

Free Press staff report | 2/1/2024, 6 p.m.
Nathaniel “Nat” Bess Lee — a multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger who worked with nationally known musicals acts in his career …
Mr. Lee

Nathaniel “Nat” Bess Lee — a multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger who worked with nationally known musicals acts in his career — died Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, after an extended illness. He was 69.

Mr. Lee, who was born May 23, 1954, in Richmond, grew up in the Maymont neighborhood on South Meadow Street and later moved to Norwood Court in North Side as a teenager. When living in Maymont, he and his neighborhood friends — Melvin Glover Jr., Bobby Kirksey and George Black — started their first band together, according to several of his childhood friends.

Mr. Lee attended John Marshall High School and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1972, where he played on the tennis team and performed in local bands.

Born with an innate musical talent like his Oberlin-trained father, the late Dr. Nathaniel Lee, Mr. Lee studied music as a child and graduated from Virginia State University in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. His versatility as a musician ranged from soul, funk, R&B, jazz and reggae to European classical music. He played the keyboard for several local musical groups, including Stacy Henry and the Majestics, Oneness of Juju, the Southern Energy Ensemble and many others.

Mr. Lee showcased his musical talents as a keyboardist, music arranger and producer for nationally known groups and vocalists, including Evelyn “Champagne” King, Teddy Pendergrass, Gloria Estefan, Tony Bennett and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, among others.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Mr. Lee began his career as a music teacher for Richmond Public Schools, and served as the band director for Armstrong High School. In the late 1980s,

Mr. Lee expanded his musical career in entertainment arenas from New York to Miami.

By 1996, he began to travel around the globe as the first African-American music director for a major cruise line – the Princess Cruise Line, known as the “Love Boat.” In 2009, Mr. Lee returned to Richmond to provide care for his widowed mother and extended his caring nature to elderly family friends also in need of support. He also assisted the Richmond Jazz Society with outreach programs to children and senior citizens throughout his career.

As the eldest son, Mr. Lee was predeceased by his parents, the late Dr. Nathaniel Lee and Dorothy Bess Lee; paternal grandparents, Nathaniel Lee and Hattie Hooper Lee of Cincinnati; maternal grandparents, Isaiah Winfield “I.W.” Bess and Alice Erwin Bess; and his aunt, Frances Bess Bishop, all of Richmond.

Mr. Lee is survived by his brother, Todd Winfield Lee of Richmond; cousins Nora Jay Miller, Lem Jenkins II, and Gloria Lee, all of Cincinnati; and his godmother, Julia Mae Williams.

He also leaves behind a host of friends that include Winfred Hayes, Diane Hayes and the Hayes family, Ras Mel Glover, Bill McGee, Carmen Foster, Colette Foster Groves and the Foster family, Marsha Meekins, and a special “mother” and family friend, Gloria B. Johnson.

A memorial service celebration for Mr. Lee will take place 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, 1720 Mechanicsville Turnpike, Richmond.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity will conduct an Omega Service at 10:30 a.m. before the memorial service. The memorial service will be livestreamed on the Facebook page for Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. Memorial contributions can be made in Mr. Lee’s name to the Richmond Jazz Society at P.O. Box 25723, Richmond, Va., 23260, who or online at www.vajazz.org.