Legendary music composer and producer Quincy Jones has worked with just about every other music legend in the industry. But one person Jones refused to collaborate with was Elvis Presley. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, Jones said that he wouldn’t do it because Elvis was “racist.”
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Quincy Jones Worked With Almost Everyone — But Not Elvis
The topic of Elvis came up after a near stream of consciousness listing off of the music greats that Jones has worked with. It wasn’t really that — THR was asking for specifics and naming names. But every single name that was dropped was answered with some kind of story. Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Paul McCartney, Charlie Parker, he knew them all.
For instance, Jones said he once worked with Judy Garland at the Newport Jazz Festival. The wind was blowing into the microphone and so an engineer covered it with a condom. Jones remembered Garland coming out and putting her whole mouth over the thing. He also recalled her being addicted to speed balls.
Jones was actually asked about how he met Michael Jackson. That led to how they met at Sammy Davis’ house. Jackson was 12, he and Jones were working on The Wiz, and Jackson asked for help in finding a producer for his first solo album. Asked how Jackson was like on the set of The Wiz, Jones mentioned that he’d been copying Elvis a little bit.
“He knew how to do his homework, whether it was with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly or whoever, James Brown,” Jones told THR. “He was doing some Elvis copying, too. ‘The King of Pop,’ man. Come on!”
Jones Called Elvis Presley a “Racist”
Asked if Jones had ever worked with Elvis, Jones said he “wouldn’t work with him.”
“I was writing for [orchestra leader] Tommy Dorsey, oh God, back then in the ’50s,” said Jones. “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. But every time I saw Elvis, he was being coached by [“Don’t Be Cruel” songwriter] Otis Blackwell, telling him how to sing.”
THR notes that Otis Blackwell denied ever working with Elvis while on David Letterman in 1987. But this kind of fits the bill, because Quincy Jones also had an anecdote about pretending that he never worked with another white musician. Jones was about to work with Donny Osmond on an album and he warned Osmond not to mention it on a forthcoming interview with Oprah Winfrey. But Osmond did, so Jones ended the partnership. This was probably because there was a rumor that Osmond was stealing The Jackson 5’s art. Jones said that Osmond’s band became more successful because they were white.
Jones Says Racism Was Rampant in the Music Industry
Quincy Jones had some other things to say about racism in the music industry. As a whole, he said that back when he was younger, the entire industry was racist.
In 1965, Jones said he was at Universal Studios to work on Gregory Peck’s Mirage. A producer came out, saw him and immediately “stopped in his tracks” in “total shock.”
“You didn’t tell me Quincy Jones was a Negro,’” Jones quoted the producer as saying. He added that Black composers didn’t have any place in the industry at the time, while white people with “three-syllable Eastern European names” were preferred.
“It was very, very racist,” said Jones. “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. 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, ‘Fuck you, he’s doing the score.’ I did, and I got nominated for an Oscar.”
Quincy Jones’ Prolific Career Has Made Him a Legend
Not only did Quincy Jones get nominated for an Oscar, but he also actually became one of the world’s most successful music composers and producers in the world. He’s tied for second with Beyoncé on the list of all-time Grammy Award wins, with a total of 28. He’s one of 15 people to ever receive the Grammy Legend Award and in 2013 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2021, he was inducted into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame. And according to Celebrity Net Worth, the 89-year-old is worth a whopping $500 million.
He’s even been invited by Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Paul Allen to fly with them to space. But he told THR that there isn’t a chance.
“Are you crazy, man? You see that thing taking off?” Jones said of the numerous Virgin Galactic and SpaceX explosion disasters.
Jones Said the George Floyd Protests Were Overdue
When asked about the recent George Floyd protests, Quincy Jones said that it was a long time coming. He also likened misogyny to racism, both being a form of hate.
“It’s been coming a long time, man,” Jones told THR. “People have been turning their heads the other way, but it’s all the same to me — misogyny, racism. You have to be taught how to hate somebody. It doesn’t come naturally, I don’t think. I don’t think so unless you’ve been trained. I just think it’s such a bad habit. These racists, oh my God. Asians? How the hell do you get mad at an Asian girl?”
As a side note, it may or may not surprise you that Quincy Jones has synesthesia. Synesthesia is when senses get mixed up, like hearing colors or seeing sounds. In Jones’ case, he sees sounds, or music. He told THR that helps him compose musical scores.