Quincy Jones has climbed all the hills music has to offer a successful musician: producer, composer, arranger and conductor. But perhaps his greatest genius is the way he's helped others deal with the valleys of a music career.
Jones has a house full of awards, including stacks of Grammys, but this week he received an extra special citation when Harvard University's School of Public Health named him its first Mentor of the Year.
Jones, who is being honored for his charitable work, said he had a famous mentor of his own when he was young -- the then-young Ray Charles, who helped Jones with the ups and downs of a career in entertainment.
"We used to say this thing all the time to each other: 'Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me,'" Jones said. "Those words helped us stay out of the valleys."
Since then, Jones has mentored many who went on to big success, including Will Smith, whom he met while producing the TV sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," and a relatively unknown Oprah Winfrey, when she worked with him on "The Color Purple."
"She quotes me all the time as saying when I first met her I sensed her future was so bright it hurts my eyes. … It's true," Jones said. "In 1985, who knew she would go from here to there?"
Reaching Out to at-Risk Teens
Jones' mentoring has extended far beyond Hollywood. He recently toured Cambodia's schools and villages as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. And in 2000, Jones took five at-risk teens from Los Angeles to South Africa, where they met Nelson Mandela.
"I promised Mandela that for his birthday we would build a hundred homes for them with Habitat for Humanity. And I got these kids involved in physically building the first three homes," Jones said. "They got on their knees and they kissed Mandela's hand, and they cried, and totally transformed their essence."
Among those who benefited from this work is Omari Trice, who is now a charter school program director and credits his success to his mentor.
"As a person of color from South Central, its makes you think you can do it, it can be done," Trice said. "[Jones] did it as a living example."
Another of his protegees, Hector Sanchez, said Jones' influence had a positive effect on him.
"I have a lot of friends who are incarcerated," he said. "This opportunity showed me that there was another way."
The program at Harvard's School of Public Health was started to recruit new mentors, and for them, Jones has this simple advice: "I think it's real simple to be a mentor. You have to care. You have to be alert and observant ... and care enough to say, step into my office for a minute."