With a nod to the Grammy Awards, which were handed out earlier this month (Feb. 10) in Los Angeles, we profile a man whose name is synonymous with the best of the American music industry. Producer Quincy Jones has garnered 79 Grammy nominations and taken home 27 awards in a career spanning five decades. VOA's Susan Logue has more on the man and his music.
Quincy Jones is co-producer of one of the bestselling music albums of all time. Michael Jackson's Thriller, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last November, has sold more than 104 million copies worldwide. It earned Jones and Jackson the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1983. The single "Beat It" garnered them Record of the Year, and they shared the Grammy for Producer of the Year as well.
Two years later, Jones won two more Grammys as producer of the best-selling single of all time, "We are the World."
Jones has received 79 Grammy nominations, more than anyone. And he has taken home 27 awards. He clearly knows good music when he hears it. "You say, what do I like, what touches me, what gives me goose bumps. If that happens, that's the best start," Jones says. "To me, the worst thing that can happen is to make a record that is based on what somebody else likes and you're not connected to it, and they don't like it either."
Quincy Jones was born on March 14, 1933, in Chicago and moved to Bremerton, Washington, when he was 10, which he says was a bit of a culture shock. "We came from Chicago, the biggest black ghetto in America, during the Depression, the (19)30s," Jones recalls. "My father took us out to the Northwest, and it was a different thing, because we had no identity at all. There were no black people."
Jones got his first professional job playing trumpet with Lionel Hampton's band in 1951. But after suffering a brain aneurysm in 1974, doctors told him to give up the trumpet.
He's best known for his work behind the scenes. As a producer and arranger, he's worked with not only Michael Jackson, but also Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and a host of other musicians.
He studied composition in France with Nadia Boulanger, who also taught Aaron Copeland. "She said, 'Quincy, your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being," he recalls. Her other advice: "there are only 11 notes; just learn what everybody did with the music."
Jones did and says what he learned has served him well.
He has composed television themes and scored major motion pictures, including In Cold Blood (1967); The Color Purple (1985), which he also co-produced; and In the Heat of the Night (1967), for which Ray Charles sang the title song.
Charles was a close friend. He and Jones first met as teenagers in Seattle, years before the Civil Rights era. Jones recalls the two gave each other moral support during those difficult times.
"Ray and I used to say to each other all the time, 'Not one drop of my self worth depends on you're acceptance of me.' We had that attitude to keep strong during any kind of adversity. We just kept our eyes on our dreams, and thank God, we realized a lot of our dreams."
In 1961, Quincy Jones broke the color barrier when he became vice-president of Mercury Records and the first high-level black executive of an established major record company.
Today, Jones says he's concerned about the future of the record business in general. "It's in trouble. We're dealing with digital information, and a CD and a DVD is like a master." He estimates that 2.5 billion records have been stolen, "because there is a whole generation that doesn't know you ever paid for music."
Nearly 75 and with more than half a century in the music business, Quincy Jones is not showing any signs of slowing down. Over the years, he's expanded his reach into television and film production, magazine publishing and last year, with the opening of the musical The Color Purple on Broadway, theater.
And a new generation is rediscovering some of Jones' older music. You can hear a sample of "Soul Bossa Nova" in Rapper Ludacris' 2005 single "Number One Spot." It was also used in 1997 as the theme to the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and the theme for the 1998 World Cup competition. Quincy Jones composed the tune in 1962.
Quincy Jones wrote and published Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones in 2001.