William Peele, about 1999
Name: William Peele
Birth Date: July 12, 1922 (assumed date — exact date was unknown)
Location of Birth: Dardens, North Carolina
Father: Enoch Peele
Mother: Cottie Pierce
Occupation: Musician/Music Therapist
Physical Description: Medium height, medium weight into his older years, brown eyes with a gray ring around the outer edge, medium-to-light brown complexion, dark brown hair. One thumb was deformed because of a childhood accident: he claimed that his brother Oliver sliced it open with a small hatchet while they were trying to make a slingshot, and then paid Bill to hide it so they wouldn’t get in trouble. Eventually they were found out, but by that time, the damage was done. Bill said that his father tried to reconstruct the thumb with a piece of salted meat, leading to its strange shape.
Notable Personal Traits: Gregarious, liked to tease and joke. Bill was usually his own best audience; if he thought one of his stories was especially funny, you might never hear the punchline because he’d be laughing too hard to get it out.
Biography: Bill was the seventh of ten children. His father, Enoch, was a sharecropper. At about the age of 16 (circa 1939) Bill enlisted in the US Navy, where he served as a steward and cook. Those were the only positions open to African-Americans in the navy at that time, but it suited Bill fine, since he liked to eat and hadn’t had much chance to do it growing up. He remained in the navy for the duration of World War II, during which he served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters.
Bill Peele in the navy during WWII
Bill had at least two close calls during the war. One of his ships, the USS Quincy, was sunk in August 1942 during the battle of Savo Island. This was one of the opening engagements of the Guadalcanal campaign. After the sinking, Bill, along with a small group of other sailors, attached himself to raft and floated at sea all night. They were picked up by US troops (most likely Marines) the next morning and taken to a nearby island (probably Tulagi), where I believe he stayed for several weeks.
Another ship, the USS Independence, was hit by a torpedo in November of 1943. The crew initially abandoned ship, but returned and the damaged ship eventually made it back to San Francisco in 1944 for repairs.
After the war, Bill settled in Philadelphia, PA.
The Billy Peele Trio
After graduating from the Granoff School of Music, where he studied piano and music theory, Bill embarked on a career as a professional musician.
In the 1950s and 60s he also worked as an attendant on the psychiatric ward at Philadelphia General Hospital. In the 1970s he took a job as a music therapist at a Pennsylvania state mental institution (Byberry). He retired from the state of Pennsylvania in the 1980s. After his retirement, he played piano at a couple of South Jersey restaurants, including Arthur’s in Burlington, and The Olde Columbus Inn in Columbus. Bill practiced the piano every day, and was always updating his repertoire.
Bill on piano and Lawrence on the saxophone. The other man is unidentified.
In addition to playing professionally, Bill loved to entertain his family. Bill and his younger brother Lawrence (saxophone player) would often play at family events.
Like his own parents, Bill had ten children: Allana, Willliam Jr, Gilda, Stephan William (Billy), Karen, Kim, Michael, Leigh, Laurie, Elizabeth.
Bill died suddenly on Nov 6, 2003 at the age of 81, probably of a heart attack.