The musical genius of Quincy Jones can be found in the uptempo swing of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” and the infectious bassline of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” He produced the film “The Color Purple” and also composed its music, which earned him his seventh Oscar nod. A decade later, the Academy honored him with its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
There are more credits, of course, including 2,900 songs recorded, 1000 original compositions, 51 film and television scores and 80 Grammy nominations, with 29 wins. Through it all, Jones has carved out a 70-year career and legacy that also includes humanitarian efforts such as expanding access to music in education and producing the 1985 single “We Are the World,” which raised $63 million for Ethiopian famine relief.
In honor of his professional and civic accomplishments, the 10th annual African American Film Critics Assn. will present Jones with its Stanley Kramer Award for Social Justice at its award ceremony Feb. 6. Filmmaker Jason Blum, who produced the Spike Lee-directed biopic “BlacKkKlansman,” which won the AAFCA for screenplay, is also being honored with a Special Achievement Award.
“I’m always honored to be recognized for whatever accomplishments I have been fortunate to have achieved,” says Jones. “To receive this award for social justice is even more special because it’s for trying to make the world a better place, and in the big picture I think that is more important than any professional achievement.
“I was very good friends with Stanley Kramer as well, so that makes it kind of personal,” he adds. “We’ve made great strides as people of color in this business and in the world, but there’s still a lot of work to do. My album ‘Gula Matari’ means ‘breakers of rocks’ in Zulu, that is what we have to continue to do.”
AAFCA also voted “Quincy,” the edifying Netflix film that celebrates Jones’ life, the best documentary of 2018. His daughter, actress and producer Rashida Jones, co-directed the film.
“Mr. Jones has had a career that symbolizes excellence and longevity,” says Gil Robertson, AAFCA co-founder and president. “His influence on how music is used in cinema, made him an easy person to choose. He embodies a great deal for our organization, which takes black identity and stories about ourselves seriously. And we wanted to celebrate him while he’s here.”
Jones says he dreamed about composing film scores as a teenager growing up in Seattle. The Chicago native and his family moved there when he was a preteen.
“I would go to the movies and I could immediately recognize the styles of Alfred Newman at Fox and Victor Young at Paramount. So when I made the leap, it was a dream come true,” Jones says. Sidney Lumet gave Jones his first American film, which was “Pawnbroker,” to compose.
“With regard to being nominated, I always go into whatever project I’m working on with the intent that it is going to be the best and original,” he says. “You can’t approach creating any artform with the intent of gaining fame, fortune or accolades. God doesn’t work like that. You have to be true to your creative intuition, and whatever happens after that is the cherry on top. And being nominated is a really, really great topping.”
As for Blum, Robertson credits him with having “almost single-handedly re-birthed horror.”
“The fact that his films are very often populated by casts that look like the world that we actually live in, we felt that Jason symbolizes something that is a cause for celebration,” he says.
AAFCA is also recognizing Alana Mayo, the head of production for Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society, with its Horizon Award. Mayo is on the advisory council for the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and, along with Jordan and WME agent Phillip Sun, helped shape Warner Media’s newly adopted Inclusion Rider. The latter is a provision in an actor or filmmaker’s contract that demands diversity among casting and production staff.
“I’m about the work. I like to be behind-the-scenes but I am flattered to be honored in this way,” Mayo says. “To be honored among the likes of Quincy Jones is really great company to be in and I really am surprised. But I’ve always admired AAFCA.
“It means even more because part of the efforts last year for the Inclusion Initiative was to create more parity and inclusion in the body of critics who review films and television,” she continues. “It is an otherwise homogenous group and there is a bias, unconscious or otherwise, against movies that may not directly identify with critics who can relate to that experience. Gil and the AAFCA include films and TV shows that deserve attention but otherwise get overlooked.”