The Untold Truth Of Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in the music industry. The producer has received a previously record-breaking 28 Grammy Awards over the course of his career, working with everyone from Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra. But before he found success, the young musician had to overcome a difficult childhood filled with violence and suffering.

Jones grew up in Chicago with a mother who suffered from schizophrenia. She was committed to a mental asylum while he was still young, The New Yorker reported. Jones' father was caught up in gang life, a path which the young boy almost followed. "He used to work for the roughest gang in the history of Chicago, the Jones boys –- Black gangsters," Jones told The Guardian. "It was 1941 and they made $110m dollars — that was the equivalent of a billion back then." The musician himself witnessed a lot of gang violence and ran errands for "a couple of pimps," which he described as "fun." 

Quincy Jones has accomplished a great deal in the entertainment industry and has some incredible stories. Read on to find out how Jones went from his early life in Chicago to a world of fame and fortune.

Quincy Jones started playing music with Ray Charles

As he revealed in a Reddit AMA, Quincy Jones met Ray Charles "at a jam session at the Elks Club in the Red Light District on Jackson St." The musician was only 14 when he began performing at "5 clubs a night" with Charles, going from pop music to be-bop to jam sessions. "He played jazz like you couldn't believe, sang like Charles Brown and Nat Cole, and played be-bop alto like Charlie Parker. He was authentic," Jones marveled, praising Ray Charles and his natural musical ability. "It was amazing! You can't even imagine."

Quincy Jones' first regular long-term job, according to NPR's "Fresh Air," was given to him by the bandleader Lionel Hampton, who hired the 18-year old to play trumpet and tour with him. "I knew that music was my ticket out of this other life that I had, you know, of the thug life and dysfunctional family life," Jones mused, reflecting on his early days as a musician on the road.

He quit heroin after falling down the stairs

As a teenager, Quincy Jones was introduced to heroin. The musician didn't develop a life-threatening addiction, however, thanks to an accident involving five flights of stairs.

"Yeah, I started shooting," Jones told GQ. "And then I fell down five flights of stairs, and I said, 'That ain't gonna work.'" The composer described his fall as "the best thing that ever happened to me," given the drug-heavy atmosphere that he would later become immersed in. "When I was in New York, I was hanging out with Howard McGhee and Earl Coleman and Charlie Parker and s***," he observed, adding, "I would have been a junkie for life."

He also claimed that everybody in Lionel Hampton's band bought drugs from Malcolm X, whom Jones described as "a peaceful, proud man, and a great one," in "Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones." The activist had previously been known as "Detroit Red," but when Jones met him, he was already becoming "one of the greatest leaders and symbols of pride to ever emerge from black America."

Pablo Picasso was Quincy Jones' neighbor in France

In his autobiography, "Q," Quincy Jones wrote about his experience studying under Nadia Boulanger in Paris. "In France I was able to envision my past, present, and future as an artist and as a black man," he observed, describing how the environment was different from the racism of America. "France made me feel free, and glad to be who I was."

In a Reddit AMA, the legendary producer reminisced about an encounter with Picasso, where the Spanish artist used his imagination to pay for their food. "We went down to the croisette one time when I was living next to him in 1957," Jones recalled, adding that when they had finished eating, Picasso "took the bones on the Sole Meuniere and he pushed it out so the sun could dry it, and he took some pens, and made some art out of it, and used the art to pay for the meal!" He added that the artist was a "genius," as well as "original and authentic. Man, he created authenticity. What a mind."

Jones also paid tribute to the artist on Facebook, writing that Picasso had "opened my 24 year old eyes to the true value of art."

Quincy Jones got into pop music to pay off debts

Quincy Jones has worked across genres with a wide variety of artists. As Rolling Stone reported, Jones spoke in his "Quincy" documentary about why he was so open to all different kinds of music and how he was inspired by his mentor and hero, Duke Ellington. "He passed the baton down," the producer revealed, a testament to how Ellington reached unique audiences from any jazz musician before him.

Jones' first venture into pop music wasn't prompted by Ellington, however, but by the state of his debt. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, a planned tour around Europe had been sabotaged in 1959 by the Algerian conflict. Jones and his band tried to keep playing gigs but ended up losing more money than they made. Ultimately, the producer owed $145,000 when he was hired at Mercury Records by his friend Irving Green, per his autobiography "Q," eventually becoming "the first black VP ever at any record label."

He started working with pop acts like teen singer Lesley Gore, whose demo tape crossed the table at Mercury Records during an A&R meeting. "...I caught it on the way and said 'I'll take a shot,'" Jones wrote in "Q," adding that the 16-year-old had "a mellow, distinctive voice and sang in tune..." After he signed Gore, she scored a number one single with "It's My Party" and became a national sensation.

Frank Sinatra hired bodyguards to protect him from racist abuse

One of Quincy Jones' most famous collaborators was Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. As he revealed in the autobiography "Q," a 25-year-old Jones first met Sinatra when he and Eddie Barclay were called on to sing at the star's Monaco movie premiere for "Kings Go Forth." Sinatra and Jones soon formed a bond, creating work together that made history. Their collaboration, "Fly Me To The Moon," was actually the first song played on the moon, after Buzz Aldrin took a cassette with him in 1969. "Frank knew first and he called me up," Jones told GQ, adding that the excited Sinatra "was like a little kid."

When the legendary crooner took Jones and other Black band members to Las Vegas, however, they faced overwhelming racism. "No black musician in their right mind would wander around those casino hotels alone for long," he noted in "Q," adding that the city was "mob territory" during the '60s. Artists like Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, and Lena Horne had to eat their dinner in the kitchens and stay in hotels across town that were safer. "Frank wasn't havin' that s**t," Jones recalled, sharing that the singer's solution was to hire bodyguards for the Black performers.

"If anybody even looks funny at any member of this band, break both of their f***in' legs," Sinatra reportedly told the bodyguards.

Quincy Jones attended his own memorial service

One of the most extraordinary chapters of Quincy Jones' life was his brush with death in 1974.

Jones had suffered two brain aneurysms, per The Guardian, which meant that he needed urgent surgery. When he was told that he had a 1% chance of survival after surgery, a lavish memorial service was arranged for the producer. And once Jones survived the operation, he decided the service should happen anyway and attended his own funeral. "Frank Sinatra said to me, 'Q, live each day like it's your last. And one day you'll be right,'" he recalled. 

In a Facebook post, Jones recalled the aftermath of the surgery, and claimed that a ton of huge stars, including Sarah Vaughan and Sidney Poitier, attended his memorial. "After the operation, I was told I could never play my trumpet again, because of the metal implants," Jones told his fans, adding that he didn't let that hold him back. "If I sat around feeling sorry for myself, I would've never gone on to do 'Thriller', 'We are the World', 'The Color Purple', or anything else that happened post '74."

The producer hated Michael Jackson's chimp, Bubbles

Although Quincy Jones helped create some of Michael Jackson's most iconic work, he didn't always see eye to eye with the singer — especially when it came to his exotic animals.

He thought Bubbles the chimpanzee was "a pain in the a**" in particular, as he told GQ, because the ape actually bit Jones' daughter, Rashida. "My poor baby," the producer mused, admitting that he was "angry" at the time. Rashida confirmed the story in 2017, telling Today that she had been trying to get her hair tie out of the chimp's cage when Bubbles bit her hand, leaving a scar that's still visible today.

Jones also objected to Jackson's other dangerous pets. In an interview with The Guardian, he admitted that he was scared whenever the singer brought his boa constrictor, Muscles, into the studio. "He wrapped himself around my leg," Jones recalled, adding that the snake "used to crawl across the console ... I wasn't very comfortable with that."

Quincy Jones gave Oprah her big break in The Color Purple

When Quincy Jones decided to produce a movie adaptation of "The Color Purple," he took a chance on a TV presenter because he liked her name.

As Jones told ABC, he cast Oprah Winfrey as Sofia after seeing her on a local Chicago talk show. "I went through some of my friends and found out who she was; it was Oprah," he recalled, adding that her name was proof that their meeting was fate. "And she was going to be the wife of Harpo. I never heard of anyone called Oprah and guess what — Oprah backwards spells Harpo. And I knew it was not only my decision, it was beyond me."

Winfrey earned an Academy Award nomination for her debut performance and later declared that Jones had altered the course of her life. "Working with Quincy changed everything for me. Just being on the set made me feel connected with myself and my purpose," she wrote for O magazine in 2001, adding that, during her free time, she would sit in a tree to observe him. "He has a big, open heart and treats everybody as if they're the most important person he's ever met.

Quincy Jones made Oscars history

Quincy Jones may have won over audiences with his scores for films like "The Italian Job" and "In The Heat of the Night," eventually becoming the first African American to receive two Oscar nominations in the same year, per Variety. However, he didn't always have an easy time in the film industry.

He was brought out to Hollywood by a producer who didn't know Jones was Black. "I was dressed in my favorite suit, and the producer came out to meet me at Universal. He stopped in his tracks — total shock," the composer told The Hollywood Reporter, recalling how racist the film studios were at the time. "They didn't use Black composers in films. They only used three-syllable Eastern European names, Bronislaw Kaper, Dimitri Tiomkin."

Jones also revealed that Truman Capote was allegedly unhappy with him writing the music for "In Cold Blood" and "wanted to hire Leonard Bernstein" for the all-white film. As the producer wrote in his autobiography "Q," "[In Cold Blood director Richard Brooks] was furious about it. He told Columbia Pictures, 'Up yours, Quincy Jones is doing my score.'" After the film premiered in New York, Capote rang Jones up to apologize. Jones' work was nominated for Best Original Score.

He has seven children by five different women

The love life of Quincy Jones has always been a rollercoaster, and it doesn't look like the chart-topping producer has slowed down in his old age.

Jones has been married three times, per British GQ, and is the father to seven children. He had one daughter, Jolie Jones Levine, with his first wife, Jeri Caldwell. His second marriage to Ulla Andersson resulted in Martina and Quincy Delight III. His daughters Rashida and Kidada were born to the actor Peggy Lipton, while his affair with Carol Reynolds produced another daughter, named Rachel. Finally, the producer had his youngest daughter, Kenya Kinski-Jones, with the actor Natassja Kinski.

"When you've been a dog all your life, God gives you beautiful daughters and you have to suffer," he quipped in an interview with GQ, adding, "I love 'em so much. They're here all the time." He then claimed that he had 22 girlfriends from all over the world at the time. "These women, the young ones, are aggressive now," Jones commented. "Oh my God, they're fearless, man." He also admitted that his daughters Kidada and Rashida had forbidden him from dating girls that were much younger than them.

Jones paid tribute to Lipton when she died in 2019, tweeting about how he had shared "many beautiful memories" with his third wife. "Regardless of the paths that our lives took us on, I can say with the utmost certainty, that love is eternal," Jones continued.

Quincy Jones is a committed philanthropist

Even after all of his success, Quincy Jones didn't forget about where he came from, devoting his time and money to civil rights and charitable causes.

He earned a reputation as a philanthropist by leading projects like the charity single "We Are the World," which united a vast array of stars. "We raised $63 million from that," Jones informed Variety, adding that "more importantly, we forced the government to spend $800 million for Ethiopia." Through Jones' initiatives, he began opening healthcare centers around the world, and the producer worked alongside Bob Geldof and Bono to achieve debt relief of $27 billion for the Ivory Coast, Bolivia, and Mozambique — endorsed by the pope at the time. "Bono's my brother, man," he insisted in an interview with Vulture. "He named his son after me."

Jones, who was Variety's 2014 Philanthropist of the Year, saw his own experiences reflected in the charitable causes he helped. "If you come from the streets of Chicago during the Depression, and then you go through Soweto, or the favelas of Brazil, or Cambodia, you automatically respond because you know what it feels like, you've been there," the producer told Variety, recalling that he saw dead bodies as a child. "You see these kids, and they don't have to say the words, you know exactly what they're going through. It's a universal kind of position on the pyramid."

Tupac Shakur and Quincy Jones had a family connection

Quincy Jones may have had a turbulent relationship with Tupac Shakur, but eventually, the rapper became part of his family.

"He'd attacked me for having all these white wives," Jones told The New York Times. He added, "And my daughter Rashida, who was at Harvard, wrote a letter to The Source taking him apart." This letter followed Tupac's public criticism of Quincy Jones in The Source magazine. The grudge didn't last, however, as his older daughter Kidada explained in "Q," Shakur apologized to her when they met in a club, and they began dating. After a tense first meeting in a deli, Jones also forgave Shakur.

Kidada also admitted that Shakur had been "the love of my life." Sadly, the rapper's time with Kidada was cut short upon his untimely death. "I had just begun to connect with Tupac Shakur, who was dating my daughter Kidada before he was gunned down in Las Vegas," Jones recalled in "Q," lamenting Tupac Shakur's tragic murder. "Though we got off to a rocky start, as I came to know and feel him I saw his enormous potential and sensitivity as an artist and as a human being."

Quincy Jones has certainly earned his money

The legacy of Quincy Jones stretches across seven decades and countless awards. And as Celebrity Net Worth estimates, he has the checkbook to prove it.

His $500 million fortune was built up over a career in producing, composing scores for movies, and working with massive artists. Jones had to fight over money with the Michael Jackson estate in court, claiming that he had been cheated out of millions after the King of Pop's death in 2009. Part of the royalties to songs like "Thriller" and "Bad" were awarded to the composer. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, he called the ruling a "victory" — not just for himself, but "for artists' rights overall." 

"As an artist, maintaining the vision and integrity of one's creation is of paramount importance," Jones stated (via The Hollywood Reporter) after the court awarded him $9.4 million, expressing his pride in the songs. "I, along with the team I assembled with Michael, took great care and purpose in creating these albums, and it has always given me a great sense of pride and comfort that three decades after they were originally recorded, these songs are still being played in every corner of the world."