Billy Bang, a jazz violinist whose critically acclaimed 2001 album, “Vietnam: The Aftermath, ” was inspired by his tour of duty as an Army draftee, died April 11 at his home in Harlem, New York, at age 63 from lung cancer.
Born William Vincent Walker in Mobile, Alabama, he grew up in the Bronx, New York, and learned violin as a child. At school, he became known by his nickname, which came from a then-popular cartoon character. After he dropped out of a boarding school in Massachusets, Bang was drafted into the Army at age 18.
He had a combat-filled tour in Vietnam, which haunted him for many years. “I lived in Vietnam, totally, all the time, ” he told Jazz Times magazine . “I couldn’t get on with my life. I couldn’t even handle the Fourth of July.”
Bang earned his G.E.D. in the Army, tried law school briefly after his discharge, and then started playing the violin again. He was a fixture of the downtown New York City loft-jazz scene in the 70s.
During those years Bang played briefly with the Sun Ra Arkestra. In 1977, he formed the New York String Trio with John Lindberg and James Emery. He also played solo gigs and put in time as a bandleader. He made more than two dozen albums, including Vietnam: The Aftermath and Vietnam: Reflections (2005).
“Vietnam: The Aftermath ” changed Mr. Bang’s life, ” his New York Times obituary quoted Bang’s agent, Jean-Pierre Leduc, as saying, “leading not only to the sequel album and [a] documentary but also to extensive media coverage and large, enthusiastic audiences touched by his story.”