The Kennedy Center

Quincy Jones


As a composer, arranger, conductor, instrumentalist, record company executive, magazine founder, and record, film and television producer, Quincy Jones has had a spectacular influence on American culture for more than 50 years.

Artists from every era of American popular music, from bebop to hip hop, have turned to Quincy Jones to help them achieve their best: Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Ringo Starr, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Donna Sommers, George Benson, and Barbra Streisand. "He's Doctor Fixit," said Dizzy Gillespie. "People go to him because he knows what he's doin'. He knows the sound you've got in you, and he's got the experience and the know-how to get it out.

He has won 26 Grammy Awards and been nominated 76 times, an all-time record. He has composed 33 major motion picture scores, has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, and was awarded the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He has earned world-wide acclaim as conductor and producer of the historic "We Are the World" (the best-selling single of all time), and produced the best-selling album in the history of the recording industry: Michael Jackson's Thriller. As a creator of new music, he has shuffled pop, soul, hip-hop, jazz, classical, African and Brazilian music into a dazzling fusion all his own. In 1964, when he was named a vice-president of Mercury Records, he became the first African-American to hold a high-level executive position in a white-owned record company. And after composing the score for Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker in 1965, he was the first black composer embraced by the Hollywood establishment. This year, Ebony Magazine named Jones the most powerful black person in Hollywood.

By 13, Quincy Jones, grandson of a Mississippi slave, had tried all the instruments in his school band in suburban Seattle before settling on the trumpet. His best friend was a local singer and pianist three years his senior named Ray Charles. Together, they played all kinds of music for all kinds of people--a situation that would be emblematic of his entire career. "At school, we were playing John Philip Sousa and classical concert-band music," says Jones. "We'd play dinner music at the white tennis clubs, and later we'd play hard rhythm and blues at the black social clubs. Then we'd go to the red-light district and play for strippers and comics, and then play bebop into the early morning-it was the greatest life in the world."

Eventually, Jones accepted an offer to go on the road with bandleader Lionel Hampton, and this stint led to works as arranger, and throughout the 50s he wrote charts for Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley, and his old friend Ray Charles.

By 1956, Jones was performing as a trumpeter and music director with the Dizzy Gillespie band on State Department-sponsored tours of the Middle East and South America and in 1957 he settled in Paris where he studied composition with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen, and worked as a music director for Barclay Disques, where he recorded the young Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour.

In 1964, Jones returned to the United States to take the Mercury Records position and also composed his first film score--The Pawnbroker, which was so successful that he left Mercury and moved to Los Angeles. His film credits now include Walk Don't Run, The Slender Thread, In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night, A Dancy in Aspic, MacKenna's Gold, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Cactus Flower, and The Getaway. His career in film reached a high point when he co-produced Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, which was nominated for 11 Oscars. For television, Jones wrote the theme music for "Ironside" (the first synthesizer-based TV theme song), "Sanford and Son," "The Bill Cosby Show" and won an Emmy Award for the mini-series "Roots."

Back in the recording studio, Jones recorded a series of chart-topping, Grammy-winning albums and in 1982 he and Michael Jackson made history with Thriller, which sold over 30 million copies and produced an unprecedented six Top Ten singles.

In the early '90s, became co-CEO and chairman of Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment (QDE), a co-venture with Time-Warner, Inc, which encompasses multi-media programming for current and future technologies, including theatrical motion pictures and television programs. He also runs his own record label, Qwest Records and is chairman and CEO of Qwest Broadcasting, one of the largest minority-owned broadcasting companies in the United States.

Quincy Jones is also a lifelong activist. He was a major supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.'s Operation Breadbasket, and after King's death, he served on the board of Jesse Jackson's People United to Save Humanity. An ongoing concern throughout his life has been to foster appreciation of African-American music and culture and to this end he helped form the Institute for Black American Music, which was instrumental in establishing a national library of African-American art and music. Jones is also the founder of the annual Black Arts Festival in his hometown of Chicago.

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