"A Musical Innovator, Pioneer, and Global Humanitarian: Indiana University Honors Quincy Jones"

Dinner Honoring 2010 Spring Honorary Degree Recipient and Commencement Speaker
Federal Room, Indiana Memorial Union
May 7, 2010


It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to this evening of celebration in honor of our very distinguished guest and honorary degree recipient, Quincy Jones.

Quincy is the all-time most nominated Grammy artist (with 79 nominations), an enormously successful business executive, and a great humanitarian, and Indiana University is very privileged to have our own musical connection to Quincy through his long collaborative relationship with Distinguished Professor of Music David Baker.

Would you please join me in raising your glasses to one of the most accomplished, admired, and innovative musical artists of our time: Quincy Jones?

Thank you very much. We will have more formal remarks after dinner.

Please enjoy your meal.

Welcome and Acknowledgments

Thank you all for coming this evening. I am delighted that so many distinguished guests could join us this evening. Would you please help me welcome our Indiana University Trustees?

And would you also help me welcome IU Distinguished Professor David Baker and his wife, Lida?

Would you also help me welcome Professor of Music Glenn Gass and his wife Julie?

Life as a Technicolor Dream

Near the end of his autobiography, Quincy Jones quoted the Spanish poet and philosopher Federico García Lorca, “Life is like a dream.”

Quincy added that his life had “been in Technicolor, with full Dolby sound through THX amplification.”1 This statement captures Quincy Jones’ virtuosity as a composer, artist, record, film, and TV producer, arranger, conductor, instrumentalist, business executive, and educator. Quincy’s creative genius has traversed virtually every medium, and over the past half century, he has touched the lives of people all around the world with his incredible musicianship, his commitment to the arts, and his legendary humanitarianism.

A Musical Innovator

Quincy Jones—known simply as “Q” to fans around the world—was born not far from here, on Chicago’s South Side in 1933, but grew up in Seattle. There he honed his musical skills, ultimately taking to the clubs of Seattle’s red-light district, where he met and began playing with a young, soulful pianist named Ray Charles.

At 18, Quincy earned a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but before he could graduate the legendary Lionel Hampton asked him to go on the road with his band.

Ultimately, Quincy expanded his repertoire to include the business side of music, becoming vice president of Mercury Records, the first African-American to hold such a position at a major record label, and going on to found his own recording label, a media group, and a broadcasting company.

Throughout his career, Jones has worked with artists ranging from Count Basie to IceT, from Duke Ellington to Indianapolis-native Babyface, from Sarah Vaughn and Sinatra to Bono.

Many in the younger generation know Quincy for his remarkable work on Michael Jackson’s landmark albums Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad, but many of us here, the older generation, are more familiar with his historic musical collaboration with supreme genius of jazz Miles Davis.

That 1991 partnership grew out of Davis’ legendary recording sessions with the great arranger and conductor Gil Evans in the late 1950s and early ’60s. These produced three historic recordings: Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), and Sketches of Spain (1959/60). Davis was always a protean musical figure, always improvising and turning to new material and revolutionizing jazz each time he did so. Just compare Birth of the Cool (1949) with Jack Johnson (1970).

For years, he refused to revisit this early work with Gil Evans, but after a long hiatus from making music and much urging from Quincy, Davis agreed to perform those early classics at the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival. Gil Evans was dead by then, so there was only one person who could possibly conduct and arrange these masterworks, and that was Quincy Jones

The result was the last recording Miles would ever release in his lifetime, arguably one of the best live jazz albums ever produced, and my all-time personal favorite jazz album, the magnificent Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux. Sadly, Miles died a few months later.

With 27 Grammy Awards, 33 film scores, and hundreds of other credits to his name, Quincy has also been committed to fostering an appreciation of African-American music and culture. He founded the Black Arts Festival in Chicago and the Institute for Black American Music, which supported the establishment of a national library of African-American art and music. He is also the founder of the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation, a nonprofit organization that connects youths with technology, education, culture, and music.

Here at IU, and through his connections with Distinguished Professor David Baker, our jazz students have benefited from Quincy’s mentorship and generous contributions of original arrangements—at no cost, and for that we are most grateful.

For his musical contributions to society, Quincy has already received the Grammy Living Legend Award, the Kennedy Center Honors Award, the Distinguished Arts and Letters Award from the French Ministry of Culture, and a Horatio Alger Award, among many other prestigious honors.

Of course, these awards only begin to suggest Quincy’s musical achievements, which are inextricably tied to his legacy as a humanitarian.

A Legendary Humanitarian

Quincy was an early supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Operation Breadbasket,” which promoted economic development in inner cities. After Dr. King’s death, Quincy served on the board of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s People United to Save Humanity, better known as PUSH, helping to raise public awareness of issues concerning social justice and civil rights.

In 1985, Quincy co-produced the landmark “We Are the World” charity single, a benefit to relieve famine in Africa. This year, a full quarter-century after its initial release, he orchestrated a remake of “We Are the World,” this time to benefit the earthquake victims in Haiti.

In 2004, Quincy established the “We Are the Future” project, which aids children in impoverished and conflict-ridden areas. Three years later, he joined forces with the Harvard School of Public Health to improve the health and well-being of millions of children worldwide through Project Q. And through the Quincy Jones Foundation, he has raised awareness and financial support for global children’s issues, malaria eradication, clean water, and efforts to restore the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.

For these and other philanthropic efforts, he has received awards from numerous organizations, including the National Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Brotherhood Crusade, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, and the National Council of Negro Women. In 1995, he became the first African-American to receive the Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 2008, he received the Humanitarian Award at the annual BET Awards. And just last year, he received the Clinton Global Citizen Award from President Clinton’s Global Initiative, an award given to those who are working to enact positive change around the world.

‘A Great Human Being’

Even after all of his awards and accolades, Quincy continues to set his sights on other goals.

Upon the historic election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president, Quincy said he planned to “beg” the new president to create a new Cabinet position—“Secretary of Arts.”

At the heart of this grass-roots effort is Quincy’s deeply rooted belief in the importance of the arts on both an emotional and educational plane, providing greater cultural awareness, and the positive and unifying impact of the arts on communities across our nation and throughout the world.

His call has also garnered an outpouring of support from those who recognize him for his pioneering spirit, his compassion for others, and his commitment to making the world a better place. In fact at last count, a petition in support of that new cabinet position had garnered nearly a half-a-million signatures.

In nominating him for an honorary degree, Jones’ colleagues described him as “a man with a deep personal faith in brother and sisterhood,” “a good, kind-hearted person,” “one of the greatest humanitarians that I have had the pleasure of knowing,” and “a great artist and a great human being.”

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor and privilege to present to you the legendary Quincy Jones Jr.

Closing the Evening

Thank you all for coming this evening, and I look forward to seeing you at tomorrow’s commencement ceremony.

Source Notes

1. Jones, Quincy. Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Page 233.