Jones came to prominence in the 1950s as a jazz arranger and conductor, before moving on to work prolifically in pop music and film scores. In 1968, Jones and his songwriting partner, Bob Russell, became the first African Americans to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, their selection "The Eyes of Love" for the Universal Pictures film Banning. That same year, Jones was the first African American to be nominated twice within the same year for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, as he was also nominated for his work on the 1967 film In Cold Blood. In 1971, Jones was the first African American to be named as the musical director and conductor of the Academy Awards ceremony. In 1995, he was the first African American to receive the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He is tied with sound designer Willie D. Burton as the African American who has been nominated for the most Oscars; each has received seven nominations.
In 2013, Jones was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as the winner, alongside Lou Adler, of the Ahmet Ertegun Award. Among his awards, Jones was named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century.
Jones was born in 1933, on the South Side of Chicago, to Sarah Frances (née Wells) (1903–1999) and Quincy Delight Jones Sr(1895–1971). The elder Jones was a semi-pro baseball player and carpenter from Kentucky; his paternal grandmother was an ex-slave in Louisville. They had gone to Chicago as part of the Great Migration out of the South. Sarah was a bank officer and apartment complex manager. Jones later discovered that his paternal grandfather, Caesar Jones, was the son of a white American man of Welsh descent. Quincy had a younger brother, Lloyd, who later became an engineer for the Seattle television station KOMO-TV. Lloyd Jones died in 1998. Quincy was introduced to music by his mother, who always sang religious songs; and by his next-door neighbor, Lucy Jackson. When Jones was five or six, Jackson played stride piano next door, and he would always listen through the walls. Lucy Jackson recalled that after he heard her that one day, she could not get him off her piano if she tried.
When the boys were young, their mother suffered from a schizophrenic breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. His father Quincy Senior obtained a divorce and remarried. Jones's stepmother, Elvera, had three children of her own: Waymond, who became a friend of the young Quincy; Theresa; and Katherine. Elvera and Quincy Senior had three more children together through 1950, after they had moved to the Northwest: Jeanette; Margie; and Richard, the last of whom subsequently became a judge in Seattle, making a total of eight in the family.
In 1943, when Jones was ten, his family moved to Bremerton, Washington, where his father got a wartime job at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. After the war, the Jones family moved to Seattle, the major regional city, where Jones attended Garfield High School near his home. He had discovered music when he was 12 and became more deeply involved in high school, developing his skills as a trumpeter and arranger. His classmates there included Charles Taylor, who played saxophone and whose mother, Evelyn Bundy, had been one of Seattle's first society jazz-band leaders. The youths began playing with a band. At the age of 14, they were playing with a National Reserve band. Jones has said he got much more experience with music growing up in a smaller city; otherwise, he would have faced too much competition.
At the age of 14, Jones introduced himself to a then 16-year-old musician from Florida, Ray Charles, after watching him play at the Black Elks Club. Jones cites Ray Charles as an early inspiration for his own music career. He noted that Charles had overcome a disability (glaucomatic blindness) to achieve his musical goals. He has credited his father's sturdy work ethic with giving him the means to proceed, and his loving strength with holding the family together. Jones has said his father had a saying: "Once a task is just begun, never leave until it's done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all."
In 1951, Jones won a scholarship to Seattle University, where a young Clint Eastwood – also a music major there – watched him play in the college band. After only one semester, Jones transferred to what is now the Berklee College of Music, in Boston, on another scholarship. (As of 2016, Jones's application for admission continued to be preserved on display at Berklee.) While studying at Berklee, he played at Izzy Ort's Bar & Grille with Bunny Campbell and Preston Sandiford, whom he later cited as important musical influences. He left his studies after he received an offer to tour as a trumpeter with the bandleader Lionel Hampton and embarked on his professional career. While Jones was on the road with Hampton, he displayed a gift for arranging songs. Jones relocated to New York City, where he received a number of freelance commissions arranging songs for artists including Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, and Ray Charles, by then a close friend.
At the age of 19, Jones traveled with jazz bandleader Lionel Hampton to Europe—and he has said that his European tour with Hampton turned him upside down, altering his view of racism in the US.
It gave you some sense of perspective of past, present and future. It took the myopic conflict between just black and white in the United States and put it on another level because you saw the turmoil between the Armenians and the Turks, and the Cypriots and the Greeks, and the Swedes and the Danes, and the Koreans and the Japanese. Everybody had these hassles, and you saw it was a basic part of human nature, these conflicts. It opened my soul, it opened my mind.
In 1956, Jones toured again as a trumpeter and musical director of the Dizzy Gillespie Band on a tour of the Middle East and South America sponsored by the United States Information Agency. Upon his return, Jones signed with ABC-Paramount Records and started his recording career as the leader of his own band. In 1957, Quincy settled in Paris, where he studied composition and theory with Classical composers Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen. He also performed at the Paris Olympia. Jones became music director at Barclay Disques, a leading French record company and the licensee for Mercury Records in France.
During the 1950s, Jones successfully toured throughout Europe with a number of jazz orchestras. As musical director of Harold Arlen's jazz musical Free and Easy, he took to the road again. A European tour closed in Paris in February 1960. With musicians from the Arlen show, Jones formed his own big band, which he called "The Jones Boys," with eighteen artists. The band included double bass player Eddie Jones and fellow trumpeter Reunald Jones. They organized a tour of North America and Europe. Though the European and American concerts met enthusiastic audiences and sparkling reviews, concert earnings could not support a band of this size. Poor budget planning resulted in an economic disaster; the band dissolved and the fallout left Jones in a financial crisis. Musician Magazine quoted Jones as saying about the ordeal:
“We had the best jazz band on 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.”
Irving Green, head of Mercury Records, helped Jones with a personal loan and a new job as the musical director of the company's New York division. There he worked with Doug Moody, who founded Mystic Records.
In 1964, Jones was promoted to vice-president of Mercury Records, becoming the first African American to hold this executive position. In that same year, he turned his attention to film scores, another musical arena long closed to African Americans. At the invitation of director Sidney Lumet, he composed the music for The Pawnbroker (1964). It was the first of his 33 major motion picture scores.
Following the success of The Pawnbroker, Jones left Mercury Records and moved to Los Angeles. After composing the film scores for Mirage and The Slender Thread in 1965, he was in constant demand as a composer. His film credits over the next seven years included Walk, Don't Run, The Deadly Affair, In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night, MacKenna's Gold, The Italian Job, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Cactus Flower, The Out-Of-Towners, They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!, The Anderson Tapes, $ (Dollars), and The Getaway. In addition, he composed "The Streetbeater," which became familiar as the theme music for the television sitcom Sanford and Son, starring close friend Redd Foxx; he also composed the themes for other TV shows, including Ironside, Banacek, The Bill Cosby Show, the opening episode of Roots, and the Mark Goodson-Bill Todman game show Now You See It.
In the 1960s, Jones worked as an arranger for some of the most important artists of the era, including Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nana Mouskouri, Shirley Horn, Peggy Lee, and Dinah Washington. Jones's solo recordings also gained acclaim, including Walking in Space, Gula Matari, Smackwater Jack, You've Got It Bad Girl, Body Heat, Mellow Madness, and I Heard That!!
He is known for his 1962 tune "Soul Bossa Nova," which originated on the Big Band Bossa Nova album. "Soul Bossa Nova" was a theme used for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, the Canadian game show Definition, the Woody Allen film Take the Money and Run, and the Austin Powers film series. It was sampled by Canadian hip-hop group Dream Warriors for their song, "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style."
Jones produced all four million-selling singles for Lesley Gore during the early and mid-sixties, including "It's My Party" (UK No. 8; US No. 1), its sequel "Judy's Turn to Cry" (US No. 5), "She's a Fool" (also a US No. 5) in 1963, and "You Don't Own Me" (US No. 2 for four weeks in 1964). He continued to produce for Gore until 1966, including the Greenwich/ Barry hit "Look of Love" (US No. 27) in 1965.
In 1975, Jones founded Qwest Productions, for which he arranged and produced hugely successful albums by Frank Sinatra and other major pop figures. In 1978, he produced the soundtrack for The Wiz, the musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, whose feature film version starred Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. In 1982, Jones produced Jackson's all-time best-selling album Thriller.
Jones's 1981 album, The Dude, yielded multiple hit singles, including "Ai No Corrida" (a remake of a song by Chaz Jankel), "Just Once," and "One Hundred Ways," the latter two featuring James Ingram on lead vocals and marking Ingram's first hits; the album also incorporated "Baby, Come To Me," on which Ingram duetted with Patti Austin. In 1985, Jones wrote the score for the Steven Spielberg film adaptation of the Pulitzer-prize winning epistolary novel, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. He and Thomas Newman (from Bridge of Spies) are the only composers besides John Williams to have scored a Spielberg theatrical film. (Spielberg directed a segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, which was scored by Jerry Goldsmith). After the 1985 American Music Awards ceremony, Jones used his influence to draw most of the major American recording artists of the day into a studio to record the song "We Are the World" to raise money for the victims of Ethiopia's famine. When people marveled at his ability to make the collaboration work, Jones explained that he had taped a simple sign on the entrance, reading: "Check Your Ego At The Door." He was also quoted as saying: "We don't want to make a hunger record in tuxedoes." Hence all the participants were bidden switch to casual clothing before they entered the studio.
In 1988, Quincy Jones Productions joined forces with Warner Communications to create Quincy Jones Entertainment. He signed a 10-picture deal with Warner Brothers and signed a two-series deal with NBC Productions. The television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was completed in 1990, but producers of In the House (from UPN) later rejected its early concept stages. Jones produced the highly successful The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (discovering Will Smith), UPN's In the House, and FOX's Madtv – which ran for 14 seasons. In the early 1990s, Jones started a huge, ongoing project called "The Evolution of Black Music." Not only did the Quincy Jones Entertainment Company produce The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it also started a weekly talk show with his friend, Reverend Jesse Jackson, as the host.
Starting in the late 1970s, Jones tried to convince Miles Davis to revive the music he had recorded on several classic albums of the 1960s, which had been arranged by Gil Evans. Davis had always refused, citing a desire not to revisit the past. But in 1991, Davis, then suffering from pneumonia whose complications would eventually kill him, relented and agreed to perform the music at a concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The resulting album from the recording, Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux, was Davis's last released album; he died several months afterwards. It is considered an artistic triumph.
In 1993, Jones collaborated with David Salzman to produce the concert extravaganza, An American Reunion, a celebration of Bill Clinton's inauguration as president of the United States. The same year, Jones joined forces with Salzman and renamed his company as Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment (QDE). QDE is a diverse company that produces media technology, motion pictures, such television programs as In the House, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and MADtv, and magazines like VIBE and Spin.
In 2001, Jones published his autobiography, Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. On July 31, 2007, he partnered with Wizzard Media to launch the Quincy Jones Video Podcast. In each episode, Jones shares his knowledge and experience in the music industry. The first episode features him in the studio, producing "I Knew I Loved you" for Celine Dion. This is featured on the Ennio Morricone tribute album, We All Love Ennio Morricone. Jones is also noted for helping produce Anita Hall's CD, Send Love, which was released in 2009.
In recent years Jones started to mentor young musicians and produced various albums. Jones started in 2013 by producing Emily Bear's album Diversity. After that he produced albums released by such artists as Alfredo Rodríguez, Nikki Yanofsky, Andreas Varady, Justin Kauflin, and Grace. He also became a mentor of Jacob Collier.
While working on the film The Wiz, Michael Jackson asked Jones to recommend some producers for his upcoming solo record. Jones offered some names, but eventually offered to produce the record. Jackson accepted and the resulting record, Off The Wall, ultimately sold about 20 million copies. This made Jones the most powerful record producer in the industry at that time. Jones's and Jackson's next collaboration, Thriller, sold a reputed 110 million copies and became the highest-selling album of all time. (The rise of MTV and the advent of music videos as promotional tools also contributed to Thriller's multimillion-copy sales figures and high monetary grosses.) Jones also worked on Jackson's album Bad, which has sold 45 million copies. Bad was the last time the pair worked together in the studio. Audio interviews with Jones are featured on the 2001 special editions of Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad.
In a 2002 interview, when asked if he would work with Jones again, Jackson suggested he might. But in 2007, when Jones was asked by NME, he said: "Man, please! We already did that. I have talked to him about working with him again but I've got too much to do. I've got 900 products, I'm 74 years old."
Following Jackson's death on June 25, 2009, Jones said:
In October 2013, it was reported by the BBC and The Hollywood Reporter that Jones planned to litigate against the estate of Michael Jackson for 10 million dollars. Jones said that MJJ Productions, a song company managed by the singer's estate and Sony Music Entertainment, improperly re-edited songs to deprive him of royalties and production fees; further, they breached an agreement giving him the right to remix master recordings for albums released after Jackson's death in 2009. The songs Quincy produced for Jackson were used in the film, This Is It. Jones was reported to be filing the said lawsuits against the works of Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil productions, and the 25th anniversary edition of the Bad album. Quincy believed he should have received a producer credit in the film.
Q first worked with Frank Sinatra in 1958 when invited by Princess Grace to arrange a benefit concert at the Monaco Sporting Club. Six years later, Sinatra hired him to arrange and conduct Sinatra's second album with Count Basie, It Might as Well Be Swing (1964). Jones conducted and arranged the singer's live album with the Basie Band, Sinatra at the Sands (1966). Jones was also the arranger/conductor when Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Johnny Carson performed with the Basie orchestra in June 1965 in St. Louis, Missouri, in a benefit for Dismas House. The fund-raiser was broadcast to movie theaters around the country and eventually released on DVD. Later that year, Jones was the arranger/conductor when Sinatra and Basie appeared on The Hollywood Palace TV show on October 16, 1965. Nineteen years later, Sinatra and Jones teamed up for 1984's L.A. Is My Lady. Quincy was quoted saying,
"Frank Sinatra took me to a whole new planet. I worked with him until he passed away in '98. He left me his ring. I never take it off. Now, when I go to Sicily, I don't need a passport. I just flash my ring."
A great admirer of Brazilian culture, in 2009 Jones announced that he was planning a film on Brazil's "Carnival," describing it as "one of the most spectacular spiritual events on the planet." The Brazilians Simone, whom he cites as "one of the world's greatest singers", Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento, percussionist Paulinho Da Costa, "one of the best in the business", have become close friends and partners in his recent works.
Jones had a brief appearance in the 1990 video for The Time song "Jerk Out". Jones was a guest actor on an episode of The Boondocks. He appeared with Ray Charles in the music video of their song "One Mint Julep" and also with Ray Charles and Chaka Khan in the music video of their song "I'll Be Good to You". Jones hosted an episode of the long-running NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live on February 10, 1990 (during SNL's 15th season). The episode was notable for having 10 musical guests (the most any SNL episode has had in its 40 plus years on the air): Tevin Campbell, Andrae Crouch, Sandra Crouch, rappers Kool Moe Dee and Big Daddy Kane, Melle Mel, Quincy D III, Siedah Garrett, Al Jarreau, and Take 6, and for a performance of Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" by The SNL Band (conducted by Quincy Jones). Jones impersonated Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington, DC, in the then-recurring sketch, The Bob Waltman Special. Quincy Jones later produced his own sketch comedy show, FOX's MADtv. This competed with SNL from 1995 to 2009.
Jones appeared in the Walt Disney Pictures film, Fantasia 2000, introducing the set piece of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Two years later he made a cameo appearance as himself in the film Austin Powers in Goldmember. On February 10, 2008, Jones joined Usher in presenting the Grammy Award for Album of the Year to Herbie Hancock. On January 6, 2009, Jones appeared on NBC's Last Call with Carson Daly to discuss various aspects of his prolific career. Daly informally floated the idea that Jones should become the first minister of culture for the United States, pending the inauguration of Barack Obama as President. Daly noted that only the US and Germany, among leading world countries, did not have a cabinet-level position for this role. Commentators on NPR and in the Chronicle of Higher Education have also discussed the topic of a minister of culture.
In February 2014, Jones appeared in "Keep on Keepin' On," a documentary about his friend Clark Terry. In the film, Terry introduces Jones to his protege, Justin Kauflin, who Jones then signs into his band and label. In July 2014, Jones was starring in a documentary film, The Distortion of Sound. In September 2015, Jones was a guest on Dr. Dre's The Pharmacy on Beats 1 Radio. On February 28, 2016 he and Pharell Williams presented Ennio Morricone with the Oscar for best film score. and in August 2016, he and his music were featured at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.
Jones's social activism began in the 1960s with his support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jones is one of the founders of the Institute for Black American Music (IBAM), whose events aim to raise enough funds for the creation of a national library of African-American art and music. Jones is also one of the founders of the Black Arts Festival in his hometown of Chicago. In the 1970s Jones formed The Quincy Jones Workshops. Meeting at the Los Angeles Landmark Variety Arts Center, the workshops educated and honed the skills of inner city youth in musicianship, acting and songwriting. Among its alumni were Alton McClain who had a hit song with Alton McClain and Destiny, and Mark Wilkins, who co-wrote the hit song "Havin' A Love Attack" with Mandrill, and went on to become the National Promotion Director for Punk / Thrash record label Mystic Records.
For many years, Jones has worked closely with Bono of U2 on a number of philanthropic endeavors. He is the founder of the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation. A nonprofit organization that built more than 100 homes in South Africa which aims to connect youths with technology, education, culture and music. One of the organization's programs is an intercultural exchange between underprivileged youths from Los Angeles and South Africa. In 2004, Jones 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. The program is the result of a strategic partnership between the Global Forum, the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation, and Hani Masri, with the support of the World Bank, UN agencies and major companies. The project was launched with a concert in Rome, Italy, in front of an audience of half a million people.
Jones supports a number of other charities including the NAACP, GLAAD, Peace Games, AmfAR and The Maybach Foundation. Jones serves on the Advisory Board of HealthCorps. On July 26, 2007, he announced his endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. But with the election of Barack Obama, Quincy Jones said that his next conversation "with President Obama [will be] to beg for a secretary of arts," This prompted the circulation of a petition on the Internet asking Obama to create such a Cabinet-level position in his administration.
In 2001, Jones became an honorary member of the board of directors of The Jazz Foundation of America. He has worked with The Jazz Foundation of America to save the homes and the lives of America's elderly jazz and blues musicians, including those who survived Hurricane Katrina. Jones and his friend John Sie, founder of Liberty Starz, worked together to create the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. They were inspired by Sie's granddaughter, Sophia, who has Down syndrome.
With the help of the author Alex Haley in 1972 and Mormon researchers in Salt Lake City, Jones discovered that his mother's ancestors included James Lanier, a relative of Sidney Lanier, the poet. Jones said in an interview, "He had a baby with my great-grandmother [a slave], and my grandmother was born there [on a plantation in Kentucky]. We traced this all the way back to the Laniers, same family as Tennessee Williams." Learning that the Lanier immigrant ancestors were French Huguenot refugees, who had court musicians among their ancestors, Jones attributed some of his musicianship to them. In a 2009 BBC interview, Jones said Haley also helped him learn that his father was of part Welsh ancestry.
In 1974, he suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm, so he decided to cut back on his schedule to spend time with his friends and family. Since his family and friends believed that his life was coming to an end, they started to plan a memorial service for him. He attended his own service with his neurologist by his side in case the excitement overwhelmed him. Some of the entertainers at his service were Richard Pryor, Marvin Gaye, Sarah Vaughan and Sidney Poitier.
Jones has been married three times and has had other relationships; he has a total of seven children:Jeri Caldwell (1957 to 1966); they had one daughter, Jolie Jones (now married and using the surname Levine).
Ulla Andersson, Swedish actress, (1967 to 1974); they had two children, Martina and Quincy Jones III;
Peggy Lipton, actress, (1974 to 1990); they had two daughters, Kidada and Rashida Jones, both born in the United States, who have become actresses.
Jones had a brief affair with Carol Reynolds and they had one daughter, Rachel Jones.
Jones dated and lived with the actress Nastassja Kinski from 1991 until 1995. They had a daughter, Kenya Julia Miambi Sarah Jones, born in 1993.
In 1994 he was criticized by rapper Tupac Shakur for having relationships with white women, prompting Jones's daughter Rashida to pen a scathing open letter in response published in The Source. Rashida's sister Kidada developed a romantic relationship with Shakur, and had been living with the rapper for four months at the time of his death.
For the 2006 PBS television program, African American Lives, Jones had his DNA tested and genealogists researched his family history again. His DNA admixture revealed he is predominately African with 34% European in ancestry, found on both sides of his family. Research showed that he has Welsh, English, French and Italian ancestry, with European ancestry in his direct patrilineal line (Y DNA). Through his direct matrilineal line (mt DNA), he is of West African/Central African ancestry of Tikar descent, a people centered in present-day Cameroon. Other matrilineal ancestry includes European, such as Lanier male ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, making him eligible for Sons of Confederate Veterans. Among his ancestors is Betty Washington Lewis, the sister of president George Washington. Jones is also a direct descendant of Edward I of England; Edward's ancestors included Rurik, Polish, Swiss, and French nobility.
Jones can speak a little Persian. Jones has never learned to drive, citing an accident in which he was a passenger (at age 14) as the reason.
In addition to receiving recognition specifically for his music and arrangements, Jones has been recognized for his overall contributions to music and humanitarian goals. He has received numerous honorary doctorates and been invited to speak at college and university commencement ceremonies.He received the Grammy's Legend Award in 1991, one of only 15 people ever to receive it.
Garfield High School in Seattle named a performing arts center after him.
Quincy Jones Elementary School located in South Central Los Angeles is named after him.
He received the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards in 2008.
He received the John F. Kennedy Center Honors in 2001.
He received the Los Angeles Press Club Visionary Award in 2014.
He received an honorary doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music, London, in 2015.
Yakety Yak, Take it Back (1991) – Himself
Trash Talk (1992) – Himself
Fantasia 2000 (1999) – Himself (segment "Rhapsody in Blue")
Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) – Himself
Sandy Wexler (2017) – Himself