The Impact of Quincy Jones

In 1961, he became the first black man to be a high-level executive at a major record label, when he was appointed vice-president of Mercury Records. A decade later, he was the first black person to conduct an orchestra for the Oscars. And a decade after that, he was the first black movie producer to be nominated for an Oscar. And a few years later, his Qwest Broadcasting became one of the largest minority-owned companies in the U.S. just four short years after it was launched. There are so many milestones, so many awards and honors, that he can’t even begin to name what was his most significant moment. “I produced the inauguration for President Clinton in 1992,” he offers. “Then in 1996, I produced the Oscars. All over the place—working with Sinatra, Ray Charles, working with every major artist for the last 60 years of American music. Billie Holiday, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, LaVern Backer. Everybody. It doesn’t stop.”

And the awards and accolades don’t stop either. He’s been nominated for a Grammy a record 79 times and won his first in 1963 for “Best Instrumental Arrangement.” He’s racked up 26 additional Grammys since then, including “Album of the Year” for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which Jones produced, in 1983. It holds the record as the best selling album of all time. He also was honored with the Grammy’s “Living Legend” award in 1990. It’s no wonder; that year, he took home six other Grammys for his Back on the Block album, including “Album of the Year” and “Producer of the Year.” Moreover, he’s got an Emmy, seven Oscar nominations, a slew of humanitarian awards, as well as top honors from countries around the world, including France’s prestigious Legion d’Honneur title and the Republic of Italy’s Rudolph Valentino award.

Music Education

Beyond his humanitarian efforts, Jones is also an advocate for the promotion of American music, which he feels is so entwined with the fabric of our nation, reflective of our history and our culture, and also reflective of a global culture. A lifelong student of music history, he says he is fascinated by the way influential sounds spread around the globe. “It’s painful to me realizing that America doesn’t have a Minister of Culture,” he says. “The country has the most widespread and imitated music on the planet.” Jones implored President Obama to introduce such a position, but his pleas were lost in the rumble of political strife. So Jones took matters into his own hands and formed The Quincy Jones Musiq Consortium, where leaders from all parts of the music industry combine forces with educators to ensure music is part of the lives of the children in the U.S. The Consortium also features an online social media network, a community where advocates for music education can share ideas and resources to help further the cause.

It’s only a mere drop in the overflowing bucket that holds the many ventures of Quincy Jones. His latest album, Q: Soul Bossa Nostra, is about to drop and already is causing a stir. While it’s not the first time he has brought together a slew of No. 1 artists for an album (his Back on the Block in 1989 combined the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis with artists like Ice T, Big Daddy Kane, and Melle Mel), the new album is comprised of contemporary remakes of classic songs from Jones’ own catalog. “It is just astounding,” he says. “Timbaland brought out the idea of it years ago—of having hip-hoppers contribute to my songs, and I was very honored. Then it started to become a reality. And he was generous enough to open it up and have tons of guys get involved.” Artists like Usher, Ludacris, Jennifer Hudson, and Snoop Dogg joined forces with producers like Scott Storch, Jermaine Dupri, and Akon to put pop, R&B, and hip-hop twists on songs like “Strawberry Letter 23,” “Give me the Night,” and “Tomorrow.” Ludacris and Naturally 7 put a hip-hop stamp on the title track “Soul Bossa Nova,” which Jones says “is something I wrote in 20 minutes in 1962, and then it became the Austin Powers theme song.”

The first single, Akon’s version of the Brother Johnson classic 1977 “Strawberry Letter 23,” was released in March, with the entire album, which Jones executive produced, to be released in late August. It won’t be the last we hear from the living legend. Ask him if he is thinking about packing it in, and he says, “Not even close. I’ve got nine movies and three albums planned.” He’s got plans to head to China, then to Brazil. And he says, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”