A Close Look at 'Q'

And it's a payoff, Quincy makes sure to note, that didn't end when the kids went back to LA, but will echo down the years and past his lifetime, as "the kids now, they're all in executive positions with organizations helping kids get out of trouble and stuff. It's the best reward in the world."

When he was on the board of Operation PUSH in the early 1970s, Quincy got one of his first chances to combine what's proven to be his biggest passions, music and social activism. With several other board members—including chairman Jerry Butler, Roberta Flack, Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, Donny Hathaway, and Isaac Hayes—Quincy founded the Institute for Black American Music in the early 1970s. They didn't just take its mission into the classroom, holding seminars for local high schools; in the best tradition of putting your lessons into practice, he and his fellow Institute members also put on a show. Not any old show, but seven star-studded nights at the Chicago Amphitheater with Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Jackson Five, and Marvin Gaye; comedians Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, and Bill Cosby; and even the cast of Sesame Street. The 1973 Duke Ellington special on CBS television that Quincy co-produced (and for which he conducted the orchestra) was also a project of the Institute, and Jones also co-founded the Black Arts Festival in Chicago.

Quincy's role in the Institute is just one more example of his longtime commitment to honoring the importance of African-American musical heritage and passing it on to new generations. If you don't keep your tradition alive, it's in danger of dying, whether passed on by speech, song, and deed back in Africa, or by classes, performances, or records in our modern age. "I would like more young people to see the whole thread, rather than get split up, because you see it's too costly to put a crown on James Brown's head, while his feet are in the blood of Duke Ellington," he said at the time. "It can't be cut off like that and it hurts me to see it. It shouldn't be the ego trip of who I am, but it should be, look who we are."

Along the same lines, he added a few years later, "The musicologists tried to deal with African music and its extensions in terms of the European art forms, whereas the African forms had nothing to do with that. African life was a total life force harnessed to the music. We didn't have writers, but we did have the music, and the music was the vehicle to carry the remnants of black history. The true history of blacks is not in our history books, but in the music. The only blacks I ever heard of in school were Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. It was like nobody else existed. We had no folk heroes in any books, ever. Our history is all locked in the music and is passed down in its different forms through that music."

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