Chicago hip–hop pioneer Parker Lee Williams, who went by the name DJ P-Lee Fresh, died Wednesday of a heart attack at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, his music licensing company announced on Instagram.
His business partner, Dave Herrero, confirmed his death at 54.
The New York City native, who also went by the name Parker Lee, started out as the founder of a Chicago crew of graffiti artists known as the X-Men, Herrero said. They were an offshoot of a storied New York crew. He was still a teenager when he helped open the hip–hop club STEPPS. It operated in the mid-1980s at 6459 N. Sheridan.
In 1990, he graduated from Columbia College Chicago and became an intern for the Oprah Winfrey Show.
There, “He moved from tape room assistant up to assistant editor, all the while selecting and organizing music for the show’s edits,” according to a biography from his Northwest Side music licensing company, Who’z the Boss.
“He started working so much overtime,” Herrero said, “that they were forced to put him on salary.”
Eventually, Mr. Williams became music director for Harpo Productions. “In this role, he DJ’d for ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ daily until the final episode in Chicago and also selected music which would evoke the emotion and set the mood of every minute of every episode,” his biography said.
He went on to create the Harpo Music Sounds Library, which brought in new revenue to the Oprah empire, Herrero said.
He also worked as a music supervisor for Oprah specials, “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and Wanda Sykes’ comedy special “Herlarious,” among other projects, according to IMDB.com.
The two-time Emmy nominee had a golden ear, said Herrero, a blues guitarist himself: “He did everything he did very well.”
Their company – Who’z the Boss – handles licensing and custom music for commercials, video games, movies and TV. It represents artists who’ve written tunes for Coca-Cola, CNN, ESPN, MTV, PBS, Southwest Airlines, VH-1 and Wendy’s. Its talent roster includes Jimmy Johnson, Barry Levenson, Dave Specter, Nicholas Tremulis and Chihsuan Yang.
Herrero said he is survived by his mother, Flora, and his father, jazz drummer Leroy Williams. Mr. Williams named the record label he started Jazz Child.
He admired old-school beats and hip-hop artists, working with Grandmaster Melle Mel, Chuck D and Grandmaster Caz. He recorded and appeared in music videos with rapper Akbar as part of the duo Mental Giants.
Grandmaster Caz posted a Facebook tribute that said, “Parker saved my life and helped renew my interest in music and recording.”