Quincy Jones likes Brazilian music.
He does not, however, fuck with Elvis Presley.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter as part of their new “THR Icons” series, Jones discussed the racism he experienced in Hollywood, the George Floyd protests and yes, he had some words to say about Mr. “Blue Suede Shoes.”
When THR’s Seth Abramovitch asked Jones whether he had ever worked with Elvis, the 88-year-old producer responded with, “No. I wouldn’t work with him.”
When asked the reason, Jones put it plain: “I was writing for [orchestra leader] Tommy Dorsey, oh God, back then in the ’50s. And Elvis came in, and Tommy said, “I don’t want to play with him.” He was a racist mother—I’m going to shut up now. But every time I saw Elvis, he was being coached by [“Don’t Be Cruel” songwriter] Otis Blackwell, telling him how to sing.”
Mmmhmm. And that Blackwell tidbit is pretty on-brand when it comes to Mr. Not-So-King-of-Rock-n-Roll’s appropriation moves.
Jones also spoke on the racism he encountered (and overcame because his talent is undeniable) when he first embarked on his Hollywood journey in the 1960s:
They called me to do Gregory Peck’s Mirage [in 1965] and I came out here. I was dressed in my favorite suit, and the producer came out to meet me at Universal. He stopped in his tracks—total shock—and he went back and told [music supervisor] Joe Gershenson, “You didn’t tell me Quincy Jones was a Negro.” They didn’t use Black composers in films. They only used three-syllable Eastern European names, Bronislaw Kaper, Dimitri Tiomkin. It was very, very racist. I remember I would be at Universal walking down the hall, and the guys would say, “Here comes a shvartze” in Yiddish, and I know what that means. It’s like the N-word. And Truman Capote, I did In Cold Blood, man. He called [director] Richard Brooks up, he said, “Richard, I can’t understand you using a Negro to write music to a film with no people of color in it.” Richard said, “Fuck you, he’s doing the score.” I did, and I got nominated for an Oscar.”
Jones noted that following said Oscar nomination (for Best Original Score, referred to as “Best Music” at the time), Capote called him up to apologize. Yep.
Put some respect on Quincy’s name.
Speaking of which, can we nix the desire to call any current producer “the Quincy Jones of XX” when Quincy Jones is the Quincy Jones of Quincy Jones?! There is no comparison. Especially when folks just throw around the term “icon” or “legend” without actually allowing ample time, perspective and quantity of quality work for an artist’s legacy to actually marinate.
Case in point? Most recently, Fat Joe received a swarm of side-eyes when he declared that DJ Khaled was the “Quincy Jones of hip-hop,” following the release of Khaled’s latest album Khaled Khaled. Fat Joe doubled down on his opinion following the backlash, too. In case you missed it, Black Twitter definitely had something to say:
This isn’t even the first time folks tried to downplay Quincy, either! As another legend of his field once said, “Stop it, get some help.”
Anyway…y’all like Brazilian music?
Update: 5/24/2021, 9:04 a.m. ET: We have been alerted to a 1980s David Letterman interview with Otis Blackwell in which Blackwell confirms that he has never met Elvis Presley (5:28 mark), in connection to Presley recording songs he’d written including “Don’t Be Cruel.”