Jones always used power of music to help others
EmptyFor Quincy Jones, philanthropy isn't just something that gets you a tax break or a rep as the good guy among your peers. For Jones, philanthropy has been part and parcel of his existence for the past 75 years, a meaningful outlet for his creativity and business sense.
Need proof? In "Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones," Jones recounts the sign that he put up above the studio door in 1985 as dozens of blockbuster musicians arrived to record "We Are the World." It read: "Check your egos at the door."
The story behind "We Are the World" exemplifies the kind of dedication that Jones puts behind his philanthropic efforts. In 1984, Jones heard that longtime activist Harry Belafonte was concerned that the severe drought in Ethiopia was starting to have devastating consequences on a country which was already plagued by a civil war.
Jones brought together Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson to write the song -- and made sure to follow up that the piece was actually getting written. In "Q," he wrote: "Two weeks before the session, I started calling Michael's house to listen to what they came up with, and sure enough he and Lionel were there hangin' sitting around talking about Motown and old times. I said, 'My dear brothers, we have 46 stars coming in less than three weeks, and we need a damn song.'"
And what a group of 46 artists it was: Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner and Stevie Wonder, among many others, agreed to participate. "With Quincy, you get instant credibility," says manager Ken Kragen, who organized the charity effort. "He can handle those incredible egos. Superstars require a strong leader -- look at Phil Jackson with the Lakers; they need somebody to respect. Quincy has the respect of everybody in the entertainment industry."
At 10 p.m. on Jan. 28, 1985, after the American Music Awards, the performers started arriving. Later, with egos firmly checked, and after a few tweaks to the lyrics, they recorded Richie and Jackson's song under Jones' guidance. The benefit single for USA for Africa went on to sell 7.5 million copies in the U.S. -- winning four Grammys along the way, including song of the year and record of the year -- and raised more than $60 million for famine relief.
As for Jones' take on it, he wrote: "Those 46 singers came into the studio with only one thing on their minds: to try to make a difference, and they did, and I know God blessed each of them for it. Everyone in the studio that night was at the peak of his or her career individually; most were already doing tens of millions in record sales. Their collective star power was what made this a global event. When a reporter asked me about the naysayers, I responded, 'Anybody who wants to throw stones at something like this can get up off his or her butt and get busy.' Lord knows, there's plenty more to be done."
It's a realization that Jones had as a young man working for Martin Luther King Jr.'s Operation Breadbasket, which worked to provide for poor black families in the U.S. Later, Jones would work with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, another veteran of Operation Breadbasket, on the board of his People United to Save Humanity organization.
And Jones, for his part, has always acted on the fact that there were many more causes out there that needed support. In 1991, Jones and Courtney Ross founded the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation, which has a goal of giving children across the world the means to live enriched lives.
In recent years, Jones has teamed with U2's Bono on a number of projects, including Live 8. In addition, Jones, Bono and fellow musician Bob Geldof approached the Vatican with a request that the Roman Catholic Church stand behind the cause of reducing Third World debt. They received an endorsement from Pope John Paul II, and since then $27.5 billion in debt relief has been extended.
All of this work has garnered Jones countless awards for his endeavors; according to his autobiography, in the past 35 years, he's earned 23 commendations for philanthropic work. Among those are the Spirit of Liberty Award from the People for the American Way in 1992, the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1996, and the Media Spotlight Award for Lifetime Achievement from Amnesty International in 1999.
More recently, in 2007, Harvard University named Jones the "Mentor of the Year." In addition, the university and Jones established the Q Prize, an award that is given annually to those who work with children in desperate circumstances. (The winner of the inaugural Q Prize was Scott Neeson, executive director of the Cambodian Children's Fund, which provides a safe house for 240 orphaned children, most of whom were rescued from living in Stoeng Meanchey, a dump in Phnom Penh.) Jones and the school are now teaming up on a fellowship to give journalists in impoverished countries the means to pursue public policy issues in their newspapers.
Jay Winsten, director of the Harvard School of Public Health Center for Health Communication, first met Jones in 1995 when the university was working on a campaign to prevent youth violence. "A Harvard dean who knew who Method Man was? That got Quincy interested," Winsten laughs.
The two went on to collaborate on numerous endeavors, and Jones eventually joined the board of directors of the center. "Mentoring is what he's all about -- not just mentoring and discovering people such as Oprah and Usher, but a mentor in a broader sense," he says. "He is working as a role model on how to use the force of celebrity for the power of good."
Also last year, Jones wrote and directed the musical theme for Fox's "Idol Gives Back," the American Idol charity special that raised $60 million dollars for children in poverty in the U.S. and Africa. And in September, Jones, Russell Simmons and Tommy Hilfiger headed the Radio City Music Hall benefit concert for a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C.'s National Mall.
In a 2005 interview with Billboard, Jones said that compassion motivates him to act for charitable causes: "Two years ago, we took five gangbangers and went to South Africa with Habitat for Humanity and built 100 homes as a Christmas present to Nelson Mandela, who's like my brother," he recalled. "Tolstoy said, 'My piece of bread only belongs to me when I know that everyone else has a share and no one starves while I eat.' That says it all for me."