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Quincy Jones also appears in the video:
Crossroads of My Life

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Quincy Jones in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Pursuing a Career in Music

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Quincy Jones Music
A Passion for Jazz

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Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
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Quincy Jones Interview

Music Impresario

October 28, 2000
London, England

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  Quincy Jones

(Quincy Jones was first interviewed by the Academy of Achievement on June 3, 1995 in Williamsburg, Virginia and again on October 28, 2000 in London, England. The following transcript draws on both interviews.)

You were born in Chicago. What was your life like when you were a child?

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Quincy Jones: We were in the heart of the ghetto in Chicago during the Depression, and every block -- it was probably the biggest black ghetto in America -- every block -- it also is the spawning ground probably for every gangster, black and white, in America too. So, we were around all of that. We saw that every day. There was a policeman named Two Gun Pete, a black policeman, who used to shoot teenagers in the back every weekend and everything happened there all the time. A gang on every street: the Vagabonds, the Giles HC, the Scorpions, and just on and on. In each gang they had the dukes and duchesses, junior and senior, which accommodated everybody in the neighborhood. That was the whole idea, for unity, really. Our biggest struggle every day was we were either running from gangs or with gangs. And it was just getting to school and back home. Because if your parents aren't home all day, you know, it's a notorious trek. I still have the medals here from the switchblade through my hand, pinned to a tree. I had an ice pick here in the temple one time. But, when you're young, nothing harms you, nothing scares you or anything. You don't know any better. And in the summertime -- the schools were the roughest schools probably in America. I saw teachers getting hurt and maimed and everything every day, and it was everyday stuff.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

It's amazing. Young people get used to things very quickly.

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Some summers my father would take us down to visit our grandmother in Louisville, who was an ex-slave, Susan Jones, and she had a shotgun shack they call it, and no electricity, a well in the back, a coal stove, kerosene lamps. We used to take baths that had these big, heavy, black iron pots. They'd take the top off of the stove to get it heated quicker and wait and wait and wait until it boils, and then you pour it in the big tin tub on the floor, and then it would take you another 20 minutes to do that. I mean, I remember the process and all. The security system there was a big rusty bent nail over the back door. And when you're seven, eight, nine years old, that's all drama. She used to say, "Go down to the river and grab the rats that still have their tails moving." She'd cook the rats. She'd take greens out of the back yard and cook the greens, fry the rats with onions and so forth on a coal stove, and you'd see -- like almost ice on the floor at night, you know, it was so cold in the winter time in Kentucky.

Quincy Jones Interview Photo
I asked my brother before he died, "Was this an aberration in my mind?" And he said, "What are you talking about? That's the way it was." He kind of affirmed everything that really happened. It doesn't bother you until later. You say "How could you do that?" but at the time it was just another adventure and kept your tummy filled. You didn't have too much choice.

When I was about five or seven years old my mother was placed in a mental institution and so we were with our father who worked very hard, and we had to figure a lot of things out. In 1989 and 1990, I went back to Chicago because I was doing a documentary on my life.

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I hadn't been back there in 50 years to this home where we lived in Chicago, and I got out and I was hoping it would be a supermarket, you know, or everything is gone. It was exactly like it was when we left. The paint job that my father left there was the same paint job. Every room, every radiator, every vent was exactly the same. The back yard, the same wooden fence where this happened was all there. And Lucy, this girl that was next door, 12 years old, when I got out of the car, she was like 63 or something in a wheelchair and it was explosive. It just blew my psyche -- shattered it, you know. And, when we went upstairs Lucy -- they helped her upstairs with the wheelchair and she said, "That's the bed where they put the straitjacket on your mother." I had totally blanked it out, but they say -- the therapy I've had -- said that trauma is frozen at the peak. And, as soon as she said it, I saw her that day with the four guys holding her down and she was trying to get away and they strapped her down and put the straitjacket on her. And, we were out front on the front step and Lucy held my brother in her arms and closed his eyes as they put her in the ambulance, and I sat on the other step and I had closed my eyes too, and I was crying and I was singing this song, "Oh, oh, oh, somebody touched me, it must have been the hand of the Lord." It all came back, all of these things that you've totally blanked out of your mind. It's a strange feeling to feel it reentering your soul, the reality that you blanked out conveniently. It is unforgettable stuff.

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This page last revised on Mar 25, 2008 12:53 PDT