The legendary maestro Quincy Jones arranged music for timeless artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, produced Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” — the best-selling album in the history of music — discovered Will Smith, and adapted the composition for the first song played on the moon.
As one of the industry’s most decorated artists and the most awarded producer, Jones has worked with the world’s most celebrated performers, catapulting them into immortality. And though he collaborated with the King of Pop, he refused to work with the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, claiming he was racist.
Keep reading to find out why Jones said that Elvis Presley was racist!
Only one living person can say they adapted the composition for the first song played on the moon. The multiple award-winning Quincy Jones wrote the arrangement of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” which was played by Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 lunar lander touched down on the moon.
The 90-year-old musical genius, who has synesthesia (the ability to “see” music), started his career in jazz music when he was just 14 years old.
“I learned very early why God gave us two ears and one mouth, wants us to listen twice as much as we talk, or he would have given us two mouths, not two ears,” Jones told TheThe Hollywood Reporter.
Tapping into his unique ability to seamlessly transition between genres, Jones produced pop hits, like Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” in 1963, and the same year, he collaborated in jazz music with renowned artist Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie Orchestra year in It Might as Well be Swing, the studio album that includes “Fly Me to the Moon.”
In 1968 he became the first African American to be nominated for an Academy for Best Original Song, the nod earned for his work on the music for the film Banning. Also in 1968, Jones was nominated for Best Original Score for the film In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, whom he says was racist.
Recalling his early days in Hollywood, Jones said he was faced with discrimination from the industry.
“It was very, very racist. I remember I would be at Universal walking down the hall, and the guys would say, ‘Here comes a shvartze’ in Yiddish, and I know what that means. It’s like the N-word.” Jones continued in his interview with THR, “And Truman Capote, I did In Cold Blood, man. He called [director] Richard Brooks up, he said, ‘Richard, I can’t understand you using a Negro to write music to a film with no people of color in it.’ Richard said, ‘F— you, he’s doing the score.’ I did, and I got nominated for an Oscar.”
The 1970s and 1980s were prosperous for the record executive, who in 1979 started working with Michael Jackson. The first album he produced for Jackson was Off the Wall, that includes the hit “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” and then in 1982’s Thriller, which included chart toppers like “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “Thriller.”
In the meantime, Jones was also working in film, specifically 1985’s The Color Purple, that he co-produced with Steven Spielberg, casting Oprah Winfrey in her film debut and Whoopi Goldberg, in her breakout role.
“They kept saying a black picture can only do $30 million. I said, ‘We’ll see. We’ve got a great cast. We’ve got Spielberg. We’ll see.’ We did $143 million,” Jones said of the film that earned 11 Academy nominations and a Golden Globe win.
The accolades kept rolling in as he loaned his talents one last time to the King of Pop in 1987’s album Bad, known for hits like “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Dirty Diana” and “Man in the Mirror.”
Speaking of the late Jackson as a consummate professional, Jones said, “When he was 12 at Sammy Davis’ house, and he told me when we decided to do [The Wiz], he says, ‘I need you to help me find a producer. I’m getting ready to do my first solo album. He knew how to do his homework, whether it was with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly or whoever, James Brown. He was doing some Elvis copying, too. ‘The King of Pop,’ man. Come on!”
When asked if he ever worked with the other king, Elvis Presley, the producer of the song “We are the World,” replied, “No. I wouldn’t work with him.”
Explaining his definitive “no,” Jones continued, “I was writing for [orchestra leader] Tommy Dorsey, oh God, back then in the ’50s. And Elvis came in, and Tommy said, ‘I don’t want to play with him.’ He was a racist mother —- I’m going to shut up now.”
The father of seven faced a lot of criticism from fans once his accusations over Presley went public.
One fan fires back at Jones, saying: “It is obvious that Mr Jones knows NOTHING about Elvis. His remarks are offensive and ignorant, and he owes an apology to the millions of people around the world who know his true character and love him.” And another suggested the animosity was from Jones: “Man he did not like Elvis, LOL.”
The brilliant musician has been known to embellish the truth. In two interviews with Vulture and GQ in 2018, Jones claimed to know who shot John F. Kennedy, charged The Beatles with being the “worst musicians in the world,” said he had an affair with Ivanka Trump, and made some shocking claims about Jackson and Richard Pryor.
Shortly after, Jones–at the behest of his six daughters–Tweeted an apology.
In his note, the famed music producer, who was 85 at the time, explained that he is “an imperfect human,” and not afraid to admit it. In the lengthy tweet, Jones also excused his behavior to giving up drinking three years before.
“Even at 85, it’s apparent that ‘word vomit’ and bad-mouthing is inexcusable,” he wrote, adding that his statements “contradicted” his beliefs about racism, inequality, homophobia, and poverty. He continued: “When you live a public life you have a responsibility to be an example…since I do live a public life I wanted to make a public apology. I am sorry to anyone to whom my words offended.”
He ended the message writing, “I encourage you all to please grow with me & keep on keepin’ on…Love an 85-year-old bow-legged man who is still learning from his mistakes.”
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Quincy Jones is legendary and has had such a huge influence in both music and film. But his claims are perhaps not as qualified as his brilliance in music, and it’s almost impossible to know the real truth.
What are your thoughts on Jones claiming that Elvis Presley was a racist? Do you think it matters or should we never politicize entertainment? Please share this story with your thoughts.