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Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010

Music legend Quincy Jones to speak at IU Bloomington commencement, receive honorary degree

April 8, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- "Q" is coming to IU to get a Ph.D.

Legendary musical composer and arranger, record and television producer, magazine publisher and trumpeter Quincy Jones Jr. -- known to many simply as "Q" -- is being presented with an honorary Doctorate of Music by Indiana University at its 2010 undergraduate commencement ceremonies, May 8, in Bloomington, Ind. The ceremonies will be conducted in two sessions, one at 10 a.m. and one at 3 p.m., in Assembly Hall.

The all-time most nominated Grammy artist, Jones will address graduates along with IU President Michael McRobbie and a student speaker, which is new this year.

Quincy Jones

Photo by Greg Gorman

Quincy Jones

Print-Quality Photo

"Quincy Jones is one of the world's most accomplished, admired and innovative musical artists, as evidenced by his record number of Grammy nominations, a multitude of awards and honors and artistic collaborations with the world's leading performers," said Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie.

"IU is very privileged to have our own musical connection to Quincy through his long collaborative relationship with Distinguished Professor of Music David Baker," McRobbie added. "In addition to his incredible musicianship, success as a business executive and involvement in numerous humanitarian causes, Quincy has demonstrated a strong commitment to infusing the arts and culture into our nation's education system. His vision and enthusiasm for broadening arts education in America and preserving our cultural heritage is truly admirable. Indiana University is extremely honored to present Quincy with this honorary degree for his expansive contributions to the world of music and continued advocacy for greater arts awareness and the powerful impact the arts have on our communities."

"Quincy Jones has helped create the soundtrack of American life for the past 50 years," added IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson. "The breadth and quality of his work is extraordinary, encompassing jazz, R&B, popular music, film scores and themes for television. We are delighted to have him as our guest at commencement."

Jones has earned nearly 80 Grammy Award nominations and has received the gramophone statuette 27 times, including the Grammy Legend Award in 1991. The first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award in the "Best Original Song" category, he has composed 33 major motion picture scores. He also has been awarded an Emmy, seven Oscar nominations and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

To many Jones is perhaps best known for his work as a musical producer, including on the bestselling album of all time, Michael Jackson's Thriller, and the 1985 charity song "We Are The World," which recently was re-recorded to aid victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

A trumpeter, he earned a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music but dropped out when he received an offer to tour with jazz bandleader and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. Working with Hampton led to considerable work as an arranger throughout the 1950s, when he also worked with Tommy Dorsey, Sarah Vaughn, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley and Ray Charles.

After a few years of heading his own band, Jones went to work for Mercury Records in the early 1960s and became the first African American to hold an executive position at a white-owned record company. He also became a prolific composer for films. His film credits include music for The Pawnbroker, In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, The Getaway and The Color Purple. He also wrote music for television, including for the historic mini-series Roots.

"Perhaps no one has had a greater impact on American popular music, as a boundary-crossing artist, arranger, composer, producer and record executive than Quincy Jones," said Christine Farris, professor of English and chair of IU's Honorary Degrees Committee. "Quincy Jones is an arranger as well of ground-breaking humanitarian projects. Finally, he is an arts educator, promoting youth music programs worldwide, helping to establish the Institute for Black American Music, and generously providing arrangements and mentorship to the Jacobs School of Music through his work with Professor David Baker."

Baker, a Distinguished Professor in the IU Jacobs School of Music, first got to know Jones as a member of his bands in the early 1960s, and they remain very close friends. Jones tells others that their friendship goes back to "before the days of electricity."

"He has been a wonderful mentor, even though we're the same age," Baker said. "This is the only guy I know who has been a successful band leader, composer, movie writer and teacher. Think about it. Who else could have brought the people together for "We Are the World," with all of those egos, and make it work? There's nothing, it seems to me, that he hasn't already done.

"He's refused to focus on just any one thing in life. He's a living example of what we hope our students will be -- that they'll be broad enough conceptually and otherwise to want to know all of the options available to them in life," Baker said. "Like him, they can cut across all of the narrow boundaries that we as human beings impose upon our lives and other people."

While this will be Jones' first official visit to Bloomington, he also has welcomed several IU alumni to work on his many projects as players and arrangers.

Jones has continued to record over his entire 50-year career. From 1969 to 1981 he put out a series of chart-topping Grammy-winning albums that fused a jazz sensibility with rhythm and blues. Among those performers have been native Hoosiers Freddie Hubbard and J.J. Johnson as well as musical legends Hubert Laws, James Ingram, Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder.

In 1974 Jones suffered a near-fatal cerebral aneurysm, but after two operations and six months of recuperation, he went back into the studio to record some of the most vibrant music of his career. By 1979, he went back into the studio to produce Michael Jackson's first solo album, Off the Wall, and three years later, Thriller.

His landmark 1989 album, Back On The Block -- selected as Album Of The Year at the 1990 Grammy Awards -- brought together legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Miles Davis with Ice T, Big Daddy Kane and Melle Mel to create the first fusion of the be-bop and hip hop musical traditions.

His 1993 recording, Miles and Quincy Live At Montreux, featured Jones conducting Miles Davis' live performance of the historic Gil Evans arrangements from the Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain sessions. Recorded months before Davis' death, it received a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.

He soon will release a compilation album, Q: Soul Bossa Nostra, which features contemporary versions of popular songs he's been involved with, including the title track, his composition that was featured in the recent comedy hit Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

Other career highlights include his involvement as co-producer of Steven Spielberg's adaption of Alice Walker's The Color Purple and his involvement in organizing an inaugural celebration for President Bill Clinton. For 20 years Jones led his own recording label, Qwest Records. He also published VIBE, SPIN and Blaze magazines. His life and career were chronicled in 1990 in the critically acclaimed film, Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones, and in his 2001 autobiography.

Doors for the morning commencement ceremony will open at 8 a.m., and the procession of graduates will begin at 9:15 a.m. Doors for the afternoon ceremony will open at 1 p.m., and the procession will begin at 2:15 p.m. There are no reserved seats, but those people with special needs and those who need handicapped seating and parking should call the IU Alumni Association at 812-855-4664. Complete information about commencement is available at