It is easy to forget about the path that Quincy Jones cut out to reach his status as an American icon and one of the most decorated musicians in history. After all, his legend is embedded into each of the past six decades of popular music, and the sea change of American social culture has in many ways mirrored the dramatic changes in the music business. While it is undeniable that Jones has seen the paramount of success, it is important to remember how he got there, and how he has led the way for so many others.
Quincy Jones was born in Chicago in 1933, a few years into the Great Depression and three decades before the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Life was not easy during his upbringing, but he quickly found his salvation in music. At age 14, he met and befriended a 17-year-old Ray Charles, as he was taken under the wing of famed music producer Robert Blackwell. These relationships led to countless others, and the young Jones submersed himself in music theory, songwriting, jazz, and several world tours with acts like Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton. In 1964, Quincy Jones became the first African American to hold an executive position at a white-owned record company. But this was just the beginning. He continued to use his vast musical skillset to branch out into scoring films in Hollywood, earning a steady flow of credits including films such as In Cold Blood, The Italian Job, and The Color Purple. He also continued to work as an arranger for some of the most legendary songwriters in history, including Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Peggy Lee, to name but a few. His work as producer on Michael Jackson’s Thriller elevated Jones to a stratosphere of never before seen success, and Thriller continues to be the highest selling album of all time. Quincy Jones was also the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. His list of accolades is seemingly endless, with a few of the more notable of these being his 27 Grammy Awards (the most ever won by a producer), 33 composer credits, and an inductance into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Jones has not taken his success for granted, and continues to be one of the most hardworking people in the music business. His work ethic is perhaps only matched by his generosity and devotion to social causes. His work as an activist dates back to the 1960s with his support of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. In 1985, Jones famously produced and conducted “We Are the World,” raising more than 60 million dollars in support of Ethiopian famine relief. He also co-founded the Institute for Black American Music and the Chicago Black Arts Festival. His work with the We Are the Future campaign has resulted in the development of Municipal Child Centers throughout Africa and the Middle East, offering youth education and wellness programs to growing thousands of children. Jones has also founded the Listen Up Foundation in support of underserved youth in America, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation to provide resources to those with Down syndrome and support researchers working towards a cure, and, most recently, the Project Q campaign, which raises awareness for children’s initiatives all over the world. In leading the charge in support of so many important causes, Jones has been extremely effective in using his own celebrity and network of famous friends, including Bono, Bob Geldof, Usher, and Gustavo Dudamel to build widespread awareness and activism towards those issues.
Quincy Jones is an extraordinary example of what hard work, dedication, talent, and kindness can accomplish. Despite his success, he has never stops thinking of and acting upon ways to help people. This makes him not only one of the most beloved members of the entertainment community, but of groups rooted in political and social activism as well. Jones is a firm believer that, with the right opportunities, each person holds great power to make a positive difference. He also knows that these changes must come from a group effort, and that the fastest and most enjoyable path to this destination is a path alongside friends.