Prince Lasha, jazz saxophonist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, was born William B. Lawsha on September 10, 1929, in Fort Worth, Texas. He was the son of Amy Juanita and W. B. Lawsha. He came from a musical family—his grandfather was a clarinetist, and his uncle had performed with the Count Basie orchestra. In his early teens, Lasha purchased his first saxophone at the same time as his friend Ornette Coleman. The two youths had saved up their earnings as waiters at the Texas Hotel. Lasha furthered his musical education under William A. Fowler at Terrell High School in Fort Worth and played off and on for the high school orchestra. He also formed a combo called Tympani Five, along with classmates Ornette Coleman and Charles Moffett.
Lasha excelled in music; he was a multi-instrumentalist, including in his repertoire the clarinet, alto saxophone, and flute. He played locally around Fort Worth and participated in weekly jam sessions with Leroy Cooper, James Clay, and David “Fathead” Newman. He also taught the saxophone to others, including King Curtis. He worked as an understudy for Buster Smith and toured the South before heading to New York City in the mid-1950s, where he played in various clubs and with notable jazz figures. He returned to Texas for a brief time and then traveled to California, where he met sax player Sonny Simmons. The two hit it off musically, and recorded their first album The Cry! in November 1962. The following year, Simmons and Lasha moved back to New York and played on Elvin Jones’s album Illumination. Lasha was also featured on Eric Dolphy’s renowned recording Iron Man (1963), while leading his own band at the famous jazz club Birdland.
Lasha moved to Europe in the mid-1960s, and, based in Kensington, England, started his own outfit and toured and recorded before coming back to the United States in 1967. That same year, he released his classic record Firebirds, recorded in Kensington, which featured Charles Moffett and Bobby Hutcherson as well as Simmons. In the 1970s Lasha cut a series of live albums, including three volumes of Firebirds, all recorded at the West Coast jazz festivals in Monterey and Berkeley. The volumes were released on his own label, Birdseye, in 1974. In 1981 he enlisted the talents of jazz legend Herbie Hancock on the album Inside Story.
During the 1990s and 2000s Prince Lasha lived in Oakland and developed a successful real estate business. Though he enjoyed a quieter life away from the musical limelight, he still performed at select shows, including an annual tribute to Eric Dolphy at Yoshi’s in Oakland. In 2005 he recorded The Mystery of Prince Lasha with the Odean Pope Trio. He died on December 12, 2008, in Oakland and was buried there in Mountain View Cemetery. During his lifetime he had married and had five sons and four daughters.