Of all the stars — including Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, and John Legend — who turned out to honor Quincy Jones at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater on Tuesday night, at least one had never met him before.
“You’re a legend and I love you,” gushed Meghan Trainor upon meeting her idol on the red carpet before the tribute concert, which was being taped to air on BET in December. The meeting left her at a loss for words, not to mention nauseous, light-headed, and more than a little emotional. “I’m going to throw up and pass out,” she told Variety while trying to hold back tears. “Oh, man, I’m going to cry. Yeah, I just did. You just saw it happen.” Then she started kicking herself, figuratively speaking. “And I didn’t say happy birthday. Son of a … How do you not say happy birthday?”
The memory lapse is understandable, considering that Jones actually turned 85 back in March. “I work so hard to be a great producer and a musician and play all the instruments, and he inspired me to do that, that you could do everything,” added Trainor, who later belted out a cover of the classic Lesley Gore song “You Don’t Own Me.” “I play trumpet. He played trumpet. He’s my guy,” Trainor said of the man, who has received 27 Grammys over the course of his lifetime.
But the other performers and presenters, such as Danny Glover, were old acquaintances. “I was asked to meet with him before we started ‘The Color Purple,’” he said. Glover hadn’t even secured the part at that point. “When [director] Steven [Spielberg] called me up, he said: ‘Would you come down here and meet [producer] Quincy?’ So I was in consideration maybe. We just hit it off,” said Glover. “The rest is history.”
“I remember when I first met Quincy: He had just come back after that aneurysm,” recalled Gloria Estefan, who later sang a duet with her daughter (and Jones’ goddaughter), Emily. “I was part of a big group of Hispanic artists that were doing not the same song as ‘We Are the World,’ but we were doing a similar thing in Spanish in the early ’80s. And Q came in to direct — Q is what we all call him. He walked in and I was in awe,” she said.
In fact, Q is what everyone calls him, as Oprah Winfrey pointed out on stage. “There are those in our world known by their full name … and then there are those known by just their first name,” Winfrey said. “But there is only one legend known far and wide and beloved by a single letter,” she added, seemingly forgetting the name of her own magazine.
Before she took a seat next to Jones in the audience (but ducked out around 11 p.m. before the taping ended), Winfrey celebrated “the impact of this impresario — in the broadest and in the most creative sense of the world — as an artist, as a producer, as a composer, as an arranger, as an executive, and humanitarian.” But on a less serious note, Dave Chappelle couldn’t resist cracking jokes. “You are black in America and 85,” he said. “I know there are some white people in the audience tonight who don’t understand how hard it is to get to live to be 85.”
Jones was choked up, to put it mildly. “Jesus Christ, I’ve been so fortunate in this life to have accomplished all these things that I have,” he said after being enticed on stage by his daughter (and co-director of the new documentary, “Quincy”), Rashida Jones. “But there is nothing that I am prouder of than my beautiful family and you, my wonderful friends. That’s what it’s all about.”
“You know how to fill this 85-year-old, bald-headed, bow-legged bebopper with so much love and appreciation that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find the word to express how much this moment means to me,” he told the crowd. “I mean that from my heart. In the words of the great Duke Ellington: ‘I love you madly!’”
But even as this beloved legend was being hailed, celebs couldn’t stop talking about the surprisingly different fate of another: Bill Cosby, whose sentencing cast a long shadow over the evening. “Oh, gosh. We are both really sad for both sides,” Gloria Estefan said. “There is no happiness in this situation at all because the man was an icon and he did amazing things on a professional level and for African Americans and elevating that image. And then to have an ending of a life like that? It’s really tough. At the same time, those women deserve to be heard and deserve to have their day.” Her husband of 40 years, Emilio, couldn’t agree more. “I hope it’s a message for young people: Everything has consequences,” he told Variety. “You have to respect women.”
“It saddens me,” added Fantasia Barrino. “All the men wanted a father, or an uncle, [like him] or wanted to be like him. And so I try not to put too much of my opinion on and I just pray for his wife and his family because this has to be hard,” she said. “And I pray for all the people who are involved because I know that mentally it can tear people up.”
But perhaps BET’s president, Scott M. Mills, said it best. “It is surreal. Absolutely,” he told Variety. “I think the entire experience is psychic dissonance.”