Quincy Jones has had one of the longest, most successful careers in popular music. He is a record producer, conductor, arranger, film composer, television producer and trumpeter. He has worked with such artists as Michael Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, to name just a few. He has been nominated for a record 79 Grammys – and won 27 – and in 1991, he received the Grammy Legend Award.
Quincy Jones was born in Chicago on March 14, 1933. When he was 10, his family moved to Bremerton, Washington. He began playing trumpet, and, in Seattle, he met Ray Charles, who was three years older than him. In 1951, he won a scholarship to what is now the Berklee College of Music. He moved to Boston to attend the school, but he soon wound up taking an offer from Lionel Hampton to tour with his band as a trumpet player. While on the road with Hampton, Jones began showing talent as a song arranger. He left Hampton’s band in 1953 and moved to New York, where he arranged songs for several artists, including Count Basie, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Tommy Dorsey and Ray Charles, with whom he had become a close friend.
During the mid-Fifties, Jones served as musical director for Dizzy Gillespie. In 1956, he signed a deal with ABC-Paramount Records and began recording with his own band. Later in the Fifties and into the Sixties, he wrote charts and directed the orchestra for concerts and recording sessions by several singers, including Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Brook Benton, Johnny Mathis and his friend Ray Charles, helping him become a major force in American popular music. He was hired as musical director of Mercury Records’ New York division, and he was soon promoted to vice president, the first African-American to hold such an executive position with a white-owned record company.
Around that same time, Jones began writing film scores. At the invitation of director Sidney Lumet, he composed the music for The Pawnbroker (1965). It was the first of Jones’ nearly 40 major–motion picture scores that would also include such classics as In Cold Blood (1967) and In the Heat of the Night (1967). He also wrote scores and composed music for hundreds of television shows, including the long-running Ironside series and Sanford and Son.
Jones continued arranging and producing records throughout the Sixties and Seventies. He produced four million-selling singles for Lesley Gore: “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” “She’s a Fool” and “You Don’t Own Me.” He also continued working as a record executive. After leaving Mercury, he spent about a dozen years at A&M and then formed his own label, Qwest Records.
Despite suffering two brain aneurysms in 1974, Jones did not slow down. During the Seventies and Eighties, he produced albums for Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Michael Jackson, the Brothers Johnson and others. For Benson, he produced Give Me the Night, and he produced Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad for Jackson. As of 2013, Thriller has sold more than 110 million copies and is the best-selling album of all time.
In 1985, Jones used his influence and connections to convince many major artists to record the song “We Are the World” to raise money for the victims of Ethiopia’s famine. To ensure that all of these big artists would be able to work together, Jones taped sign on the entrance to the studio that said: “Check Your Ego at the Door.”
A major film documentary, Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones, was released in 1991. A decade later, in 2001, Jones’ autobiography, Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, was published. Jones continues to work and make frequent appearances on TV shows and in documentaries about popular music.