Black History Month 2012: Quincy Jones

11 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate a man whose sixty years in music and the arts make him nearly unmatched in accomplishments and awards. Quincy Delightt Jones, Jr. was born in Chicago in 1933 and raised in Seattle. He received a scholarship to the school that eventually became the Berklee College of Music. He left before graduation to take advantage of the chance to be a trumpeter with Lionel Hampton’s band. While with Hampton, he displayed an uncanny knack for arrangement and quickly relocated to New York where he became an in-demand arranger for luminaries like Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. From 1956 to 1960 he alternated between touring as a trumpeter and arranger and time in New York. After being involved in a disastrous tour of North America and Europe, he decided that he needed to take further control of his own destiny.

We had the best jazz band in the planet, and yet we were literally starving. That’s when I discovered that there was music, and there was the music business. If I were to survive, I would have to learn the difference between the two.

He accepted a loan from Irving Green, head of Mercury Records and began working for the company, soon rising to Vice President, the first African-American to hold such a post at a label not owned by African-Americans. In 1964, Sidney Lumet invited him to score his film The Pawnbroker, and Jones became the first African-American to score a major film. He has since done over 30 scores, receiving a record seven Academy Award nominations. He also has a record 79 Grammy nominations with 27 wins including the Grammy Legend award.

He has gone on to an amazing career (including producing Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all time). His list of awards and accolades is so substantial that it merits its own Wikipedia page. This includes the coveted Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, indicative of his dedication to giving back to the world. While he is well known as the conductor and producer of the We Are the World sessions, he has made many regular contributions to other causes. Jones holds the title of the ONLY music composer of a Steven Spielberg movie, The Color Purple.  All other Spielberg movies used John Williams to compose the music score.  Not a big surprise to the TSM audience, but not only did I love the movie The Color Purple, but I bought the soundtrack immediately after seeing the movie.

Beginning with his work with Dr. King in the early 60s, he has launched many initiatives. Jones is co-founder of the Institute for Black American Music and the Black Arts Festival in Chicago. In 2004, he helped launch the We Are the Future (WAF) project, which gives children in poor and conflict-ridden areas a chance to live their childhoods and develop a sense of hope. He regularly contributes time, energy, and money to other organizations, including the NAACP, AmFar, and GLAAD. Not content just to be a celebrity and businessman, Quincy Jones is a model of civil rights and social justice.

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