Violinist Billy Bang passed away on Monday after suffering from lung cancer. Bang was 63.
Jazz Violinist Billy Bang passed away at the age of 63 of lung cancer on Monday.
Bang, whose given name was William Vincent Walker, was born in Alabama but raised in the Bronx. He began playing the violin at a very young age and was nicknamed Billy Bang after a cartoon character.
The violinist was awarded a scholarship to a boarding prep school in New England but ended up dropping out and moving back to the Bronx. Bang was was drafted into the Army at age 18 and served in Vietnam until he was discharged several years later.
Bang told JT’s Thomas Conrad in 2005 that he was haunted by his experiences in Vietnam, saying, “I lived in Vietnam, totally, all the time,” the violinist Billy Bang told Conrad. “I couldn’t get on with my life. I couldn’t even handle the Fourth of July.”
He told Conrad: “The violin was the only instrument I knew, and I wanted to play music. I didn’t know about Leroy Jenkins or Ornette Coleman at that time””or Stuff Smith or Ray Nance or anybody. But I said, ‘I’m determined to become a musician now. Not a violinist, but a jazz musician who happens to play that instrument.'” Bang said that the decision “was almost like joining a priesthood. I knew I would never be rich. It was like accepting a non-materialistic approach to life.”
Here’s Billy Bang in concert:
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