The man who put Oprah in the movies reflects on music and women, Sinatra and Basie, "We Are the World"—and love.
Quincy Jones was the first person who taught me what love is. It was 1985 when I first crossed paths with him, a year after I'd begun hosting A.M. Chicago . Around that time I'd read Alice Walker's The Color Purple , and when I heard the book was being made into a film, I remember praying, "God, please find me a way to get into that movie!" I would have taken any role—best girl, water boy, whatever. So I know it was providence when Quincy, who was visiting Chicago, flipped through the TV channels, spotted me, and believed I could play the character of Sofia in a movie he was coproducing— The Color Purple .
Working with Quincy changed everything for me. Just being on the set made me feel connected with myself and my purpose. On one of my days off, I remember sitting in a tree, watching him and thinking, "This is what love is." He has a big, open heart and treats everybody as if they're the most important person he's ever met. You just want to be around him. Months after the movie was released, I gave Quincy an entry from the journal I'd kept. I'd written "Alice Walker and I talked about Quincy walking in the light. He is the light. No shadows. He brings joy. Just being around him is joyous—makes me glad I was born." He was the first person I ever loved unconditionally.
Few careers have spanned more eras of music and entertainment than Quincy's. His work as a composer, arranger, score writer, and movie and television producer has included forays into swing, big band, jazz, pop, soul, hip-hop, and rhythm and blues. Most people remember him as the person who collaborated with Michael Jackson on his 1982 album, Thriller (with record-breaking sales of more than 40 million worldwide), and who brought celebrities together to record "We Are the World"—a 1985 effort that raised money for hunger relief in Africa. He has also worked with Frank Sinatra, Sara Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. He has written music and produced countless arrangements for such hits as The Cosby Show and The Wiz . He is the founder of the urban music magazine Vibe , and he began his own record label, Qwest, in 1980.
At 68, Quincy is the all-time most nominated Grammy artist—he has garnered 77 nominations and 26 awards. The breadth of Quincy's work is so gigantic that one of his greatest challenges has been to boil down his story for Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones , which arrives in bookstores this month. Another project that debuts this month: a five-part VH1 documentary, Say It Loud: Black Music in America .
After The Color Purple , I said to myself, "Maybe Quincy will still remember my name ten years from now—that would be the nicest thing!" Then months later when I stayed at his house, I said, "I can't believe I'm in Quincy Jones's house—in his guest bedroom, using his towels!" Now I am honored to know him not just as the legendary musician he is but as the dear friend I call Q.
At his Bel Air home one Sunday afternoon, just before Quincy served his delicious ribs , he and I talked about everything from the brain aneurysm that nearly took his life to the one regret he has about his family—and I was filled with as much love for him as I was on the day I sat in a tree and experienced his light.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Quincy Jones
Note: This interview appeared in the October 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
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