"We were walking through the Square," says Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr., of friend and Class Day speaker Quincy Jones. "We were walking toward the Af-Am department and right in front of CVS, he says, 'Stop. You hear that? That kid'"--a young drummer in front of the Coop--"'is really, really talented.' And Quincy went over to the kid...and asked him for his name and said he would give him a call."
Quincy Jones, who will address the graduating class today, is a renowned producer, arranger, conductor and 77-time Grammy nominee who has worked with an astounding array of stars including Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. Yet Jones owes his success not to his work with the top figures in his field, but to his ability to spot talent in the rough.
This appreciation of musical originality stems from Jones' innate talent as a trumpeter and composer, and his musical training on the streets of Seattle and the halls of the Berklee College of Music.
Jones' comprehensive understanding of music makes him him one of the very few musicians to transcend the boundaries between genres and work with artists who span five decades and range in style from big band to pop to jazz to hip hop.
To move this talent from backwoods clubs to big name arenas requires a business sense as well as a musical one, and in this sphere Jones is equally adept.
The musical mogul has worked as a film and record producer, magazine founder and multimedia entrepreneur. He owns five separate enterprises, making him one of few blacks in the entertainment business to own what they produce.
Whether dealing with an up-and-coming rapper or a multimillion dollar corporation, Jones' personal ability to bridge the gap between black and white, old and young, has been the key to his business success.
When Harvard's graduates assemble today, the man before them will stand tall as both artist and entrepreneur, a musical man worth a listen.
From Chicago to the Continent
Jones' journey began in Chicago on March 14, 1933, in a setting plagued by poverty and urban violence.
At the age of three, Jones and his brother Lloyd saw his mother institutionalized in a state mental facility.
"I'm from the South Side of Chicago, meaning the ghetto," Jones told noted musical historian Joe Smith. "At four years old, we carried switchblades to protect ourselves."
Perhaps fortunately for the fate of the music world, when Jones was 10, his father decided to relocate the family--which then included a stepmother and six step-siblings--to Seattle.
In junior high, Jones took up what was to be one of his life-long loves, the trumpet, and sang in a gospel quartet. He made his local debut with a horn solo at a school Christmas pageant at the age of 12, his national debut as a trumpeter for Billie Holiday at 13.
In a city not known for its musical progeny, the man called 'Q' found a kindred spirit. His name was Ray Charles and he became a lifelong friend.
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