Location: Davis Hall 204
Trumpeter and Educator, Bill McGee (William Ford McGee) was born on Feb 16th, in Richmond, Virginia. He's been a top trumpet player in the music industry for over forty years. Bill McGee credits his excellent musicianship to his roots in Atlanta. Where he attended Booker T. Washington High School and Morris Brown College both schools were well known for their excellent music programs in the 1960's.
Bill credits his high school band director, Dr. Bobby Jordan, for setting really high standards. One of his first influences was William Gee, a trumpet player, who in high school played jazz piano and wrote arrangements for the school band. Billy Gee went on to become music director for Marvin Gaye. Another influence was Washington High alumnus Scott Edwards, a gifted trombonist from a family of talented musicians, who later became renowned as a studio bass player. Scott performed and recorded with Stevie Wonder as a longtime member of Wonder Love.
After high school McGee gigged with several local bands and in the fall of 1969, Bill McGee enrolled at Morris Brown College, where guitarist, Regi Hargis, bassist, Ray Ransome, and saxophonist/pianist, Donald Nevins, had founded a horn band named Hellaphenalia. In early 1970, they asked McGee to join the group. The group subsequently signed a deal with Tangerine Records, which in 1971 released the group’s first recording. Ain't Nothing Superstar about Me. Another member of the original group was saxophonist and arranger James McDuffie. Duff was a great influence on me like Gee, because I had a chance to watch him write songs. I watched him write a song for an Atlanta vocalist “Gina Hill” and a few months later I heard it on the radio. Not long after McGee left the group, Hellaphenalia reorganized and emerged as (Bang Records Artist) Brick. “Dazz, Dazz, Disco Jazz”
In January of 1973, Bill McGee moved back to Virginia hoping to finish college. I moved in with my grandparents and with their support enrolled at Virginia State College. I remember in my admissions interview that I told the professor my gigging days were over until I graduated. Three weeks later, I co-founded the band Trussel. By this time I was almost twenty-one and my experiences in Atlanta proved to be an asset to the group.
In 1977, Marvin Daniels, a close friend, and a great trumpet player made a connection with a lawyer from Philadelphia, Johnathan Black who was the manager for a fifteen year old girl that had a record deal with RCA. The girl was, Evelyn “Champagne” King. Her debut single “Shame” (RCA) had just hit the Billboard Disco Chart. Bill's group Trussel was asked to backup Champagne on her first tour across the country. After Evelyn changed managers the negotiations to remain with her didn’t work out, so she got a new band. That’s when Jonathan Black offered to get Trussel a record deal. So, the group returned to Virginia and worked on new material, which included a song entitled “Love Injection,” a hip, jazzy song about a love connection, written by drummer Ron Smith and trombonist/guitarist Hannon Lane. Fred Wesley of James Brown and Bootsy's Horny Horns fame was brought in to actually produce the album "Love Injection," for Elektra/Asylum Records. The single "Love Injection" was a top 20 Billboard hit and was featured on Soul Train many times. When the subsequent follow up album never materialized the members ended up going in different directions and the group faded away.
After Trussel, McGee worked as a member of the New York based studio horn section CHOPS, with Darryl Dixon and Dave Watson on sax, trombonists, Melvin El and Robin Eubanks, and again with his close friend and trumpeter, Marvin Daniels. They recorded all of the Sugar Hill Record rap classics. Bill McGee played lead trumpet on the original rap records by “Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five", "The Sugar Hill Gang", "The West Street Mob" and "The Sequence with Angie Stone". He also played lead trumpet on albums by The O’Jays “Out In The Real World,” Leon Huff's “The Right Stuff,” Patti Labelle, The Stylistics, and McFadden and Whitehead. Three members of CHOPs (Dixon, Watson, and Daniels) were selected to perform with Sting and The Police. It was during this time that Bill joined his friend, Joyce 'Fenderella" Irby, as tour manager for Klymaxx (EMI/SOLAR). Klymaxx had the hits “I Miss You” and “Meeting in the Ladies Room.” During this time Bill McGee also performed from time to time as a trumpet player for Lou Rawls and Ray, Goodman, and Brown (The Moments.)
It was around this time that Rap and samplers essentially replaced live musicians, so Bill McGee accepted a position teaching music in Richmond, Virginia, where he met a twelve year old (12) Michael “D’Angelo” Archer. At the high school where he taught, (John F. Kennedy, Richmond, Virginia) McGee started a performance group that was designed to give students the opportunity to perform with professional equipment and with a live band, that same group has produced Mad Skillz, (Atlantic/Rawkus Records,) Danja Mowf (Country Boy Music, Elektra/Gold Mine, Missy Elliot, Aaliyah) and VA, One to Grow On, (Dreamworks), Harold Lilly (Luther Vandross & Alicia Keys), Gerrad Thomas, Lamont Fleming (Chris Brown & Destiny's Child). Michael and his mother came to my house to discuss his options for a music career; he was extremely focused at 15 years old and already knew what he was going to do with his life. For five years, until he was out of high school he would perform on the JFK talent showcases.
In 1993, Bill McGee left teaching in the public schools and accepted a position at Elizabeth City State University, directing the school’s unique Music Engineering and Technology program, while at the same time pursuing a Master’s Degree in administration at Norfolk State University, in Norfolk, Virginia. After receiving his Master’s degree, he accepted the position of Director of Instrumental Music at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Even while in Norfolk and Atlanta, Bill McGee was still collaborating and running a label with his former student, Danja Mowf (Danger Mouth.) In 1996, they released the solo album by Danja Mowf (Danger Mouth) “Word of Mowf.” On McGee's label Funtown, which includes one of the best remakes of Billye Holliday’s “Strange Fruit” ever made. The album was favorably reviewed in every major hip-hop magazine and was featured in the popular do-it-yourself book “How To Make and Sell Your Own Record” by Diane Rappaport. "Considering all the fuss over the negative aspects of RAP Bill encourages everyone to listen to “QUESTION” by Danja Mowf. We released this in 1996 and it's still a classic. The whole song questions if a rapper has to talk about pimpin, selling drugs and being a gansta to be a real rapper?" "Danja was a kid who had moved to the suburbs at an early age, however as a teenager he moved back to the inner city with his grandparents. He never really lived the thug life and was somewhat perplexed that the industry was making the thug life a litmus test for keeping it real. Danja went on to finish college and sign with Missy Elliot.
In 1996, Bill McGee returned to Richmond, Virginia from Atlanta to accept a position as an administrator with Richmond Public Schools. “My grandmother always gave me that old school wisdom - You got to have something to fall back on.” So as the music industry has flipped and turned over the past thirty years, I’ve worked in the industry when the work was available and at other times I’ve used my degrees to make a living, you know, that’s why I went to college in the first place.”
Bill McGee has continued to mentor and develop hip-hop artist. Especially, The SupaFriendz, (Mad Skillz, Danja Mowf, and radio personality/rapper Lonnie B., at Richmond’s Power 92) In 1999, the group had a smash hit with Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody - Remix.”It was real cool because we got to fly to New York, to perform the song with Aaliyah, Missy and Timbaland. She was such a nice down to earth young lady; it’s a real tragedy that she died at such an early age. I’ll always cherish the picture I took with her.”
Along with Danja Mowf, Bill McGee was the co-executive producer on the title song “What’s The Worst That Can Happen” by The SupaFriendz from the movie featuring Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito. He also co-wrote and co-produced two other songs that were featured prominently in the movie and on the soundtrack. (Whatever Doja Wants - Doja Gets) and (Hit The Road Jo).
Bill McGee acknowledges that most of his career he has been what industry people call a sideman; a member of a group, a supporting musician, or business/production/technical person, someone who is pretty much incognito.” The musicians, the recording engineers, the arrangers, the background singers, the producers, songwriters, the accountants, art designers, they all play a significant role in the process; these are the people who really drive the entertainment industry and they’re all usually very much incognito.
In 2002, with the release of his first solo smooth jazz album “This One’s 4U” that began to change. This one's 4U was a great experience and epiphany, prior to this Bill had always been a member of a group or hired to perform with an artist. With this CD he realized the buck stopped with him.
His second solo CD, released in 2004, was "Soul Man" a classic smooth jazz CD, with original songs based on and inspired by the Harlem Renaissance. The CD features smooth jazz guitarist, Jim Atkins on the smooth jazz anthem "Chill". Also featured is Bill's collaboration partner, guitarist Tom Reaves. The CD features 12 songs that are all excellent selections. Stand outs selections are the title cut "Soul Man", the Barkay's "Soul Finger", Horace Silver's "Song for my Father", and last but not least, an emotive version of Brenda Russell's "Get Here If You Can" featuring Carlton Blount of the Main Ingredient.
The third time is the charm and Bill McGee's third CD "Chase The Sunset" proved that without a doubt. Peaking at #43 on the Smooth Jazz Top 50 Chart and #14 on the Indie Smooth Jazz Chart, Chase the Sunset which was released in 2006, and soon thereafter, became a standout CD in the smooth jazz market. The lead single "Gold Baby" was dedicated to Bill McGee, Sr., and received generous amounts of airplay all over the country and around the world. In addition, the single "I like the way you move" featuring the neo-doo wop group 'Bak n the Day', received lots of attention in Europe and America.
The fourth CD "Still Bill" (2015) is currently riding high on the smooth jazz charts, having cracked the Top 20 on the Smooth Jazz Top 50 and being ranked #14 Smooth Jazz and #9 Indie Smooth Jazz CD for the entire year 2016 by SmoothJazz.com. The CD is packed with 11 smoking hot tracks. Including “Cantaloupe and Watermelon” which features 18 year jazz pianist Ayinde Williams and several other young jazz musicians. In addition, Still Bill features a large cast of outstanding supporting musicians and singers. A standout song is the uplifting Gospel Jazz selection “Just You Wait and See”, featuring Rev. Cora Harvey Armstrong. The Philly International hit “Children of the Night” performed by Yonnie Westinghouse, “Stay” featuring Tom Reaves (Guitar), “The Gift” featuring EJ Shaw (Bass), “Full Circle” featuring Freddie Fox (Guitar), and “I know You Got Soul” featuring James Saxsmo Gates (Sax) and Larry Dee (Organ).
Bill McGee comes by both of his professional missions honestly. His grandfather Bishop F.W. McGee, was a top selling gospel music recording artist and pioneer. F. W. McGee of Chicago, was recording for Victor records and Okeh Records in the 1920’s. Rev. McGee was credited with influencing Mahalia Jackson, Thomas Dorsey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Arizona Dranes.
Recently, Bill McGee retired as a school administrator with Richmond Public Schools, in Richmond, Virginia, after 29.5 years in public education. As far as his stellar career in education, Bill says, "Working with children has been my way of thanking my parents, and grandparents for the love and education they gave me. Many of the children that I worked with everyday didn’t feel loved and had not been nurtured. My family has a great legacy in public education, I’ve just tried to live up to that heritage to give back to my community and young people, and at the same time use my GOD given gifts as a musician."