Lee England Jr. is the WWE’s king of string style
The viral violinist is making a name for himself playing with Shinsuke Nakamura
The first time WWE audiences saw Lee England Jr. — a former elementary school teacher and alum of Sean Combs’ MTV show, Making The Band — was last August at a sold-out Barclays Center. He was front and center at an unexpected event: NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II, a showcase of the WWE’s developmental talent (their version of the NBA’s D-League). England was performing a live violin rendition of fan favorite Shinsuke Nakamura’s entrance theme. His rendition of the song, combined with Nakamura’s electric charisma, made for one of the most memorable WWE ring entrances. Ever.
So when the lights went out at Orlando, Florida’s, Amway Center for a live edition of WWE Smackdown! on April 4, with a spotlight shining on England Jr. and his violin, the crowd erupted. They knew magic was about to happen. England Jr.’s appearance meant that the beloved Nakamura, also known as The King Of Strong Style, was debuting on the WWE superstar roster. England Jr.’s appearance also meant that we were in for another unforgettable entrance. And that we got, complete with a show-stealing solo and a choreographed bow between England Jr. and Nakamura. Once again, England Jr. had become a viral sensation.
We caught up with England Jr. about his entrances, his relationship with Jordan Brand — he’s the only nonathlete with a contract — and the important things, like what’s in his fridge.
What made you first pick up the violin?
I was drawn to it, so my parents bought me one, but I immediately hated it. I told my pops I wanted to quit, and he said, ‘Just practice 15 minutes a day and you can quit.’ So I literally practiced so I could quit. He Jedi mind-tricked me into playing.
How is a violinist signed to Jordan Brand?
I ended up performing at [the 2010] All-Star Weekend in Dallas for one of Michael Jordan’s parties. I had five minutes to show him who I was, and ever since then we’ve had a good relationship. And that’s how I got to WWE — as a thank you from Jordan Brand for all of the years [Brand Jordan and WWE] worked together.
What’s your favorite late-night food spot?
In L.A., I’d have to say Berri’s. I usually get the seafood linguine. Or their lobster pizza.
Who’s your favorite athlete of all time?
Michael Jordan [laughs].
I saw that one coming.
[Laughs.] With MJ, it wasn’t just his talent on the court. It was his persona off the court. I was drawn to the humility he possessed even though he was the greatest basketball player of my generation. I won’t try to debate people from other generations about who’s the greatest, but he’s the GOAT to me. Even him getting cut from the team in high school, him not quitting, was huge. I’m someone who lives by that. I’m not going to let you define me. If there’s something I need to accomplish, then I won’t let you define my work.
Who’s the most famous person following you on social media?
Jordan Brand is, but aside from them, one of the actresses from Sex and the City. Oh, and my boy Kenneth Faried, who plays for the Nuggets.
What’s the first concert you went to?
The first concert I went to, that I paid money for, was a Jay Z concert.
Which era Jay Z?
I think that was around the time of American Gangster.
What’s an album that you think is a classic that no one else does?
Goodie Mob. [1995’s] Soul Food.
A lot of people think that’s a classic, though.
I was thinking about younger cats. There’s a  album by Duke Ellington called Jazz Violin Session. That’s not something a lot of people know about.
Name one thing you hate that everyone else loves.
I don’t like coconut.
Name one place you want to visit.
South Africa. I went to Africa one time before. I felt like it widened my experience as a human being. It’s the cradle of civilization and traces me back to my heritage. It was soul-opening to know I was in the land where I can trace my history.
What do you do before a big performance?
Pray. Give homage.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
Love yourself. I feel like I’m cool with who I am right now. And telling myself something different from what I already knew would change the trajectory of my life. And I love where I’m at right now. So I’d just say, have fun.
What’s in your refrigerator right at this moment?
Lotta vegetables. Lotta fruit. Tomatoes. Avocados. Kale. Lime. Strawberries. I think there’s some shrimp in here. Watermelon. Peanut butter Snickers bars. They gotta be frozen. Some leftovers, and champagne.
What’s one habit you wish you could shake?
Sometimes I overthink situations where I should be more spontaneous. It’s not a bad habit, but I wish I would be more spontaneous with certain things. I don’t want to be overly perfectionist. If I could just go for it, I think people would enjoy themselves more.
What are you looking forward to achieving in 2017?
I’m working on an album right now. I’m being managed by Quincy Jones. I’m looking forward to being exposed more. Not just a violinist but the total, complete package. I want people to see how focused I am with my singing and songwriting abilities too.
Is performing in front of a wrestling crowd different than what you’re used to?
No, it’s not different at all. I’ve performed NBA arenas and toured big stages all the time. One thing that was beautiful was when I first walked out to perform [at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II] there were 16,000 people, and they were quiet as a mouse. So to have that captive audience was an amazing experience. I didn’t expect them to be that attentive. And then in Orlando, what was crazy was that they saw me and went nuts. They were so loud I didn’t think they were going to hear me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To realize that everything you see now was once an idea. And if you manifest your ideas, you can live the life you dreamed of.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.