Quincy Jones Reveals Why He Never Worked With Elvis Presley: 'He Was A Racist Mother—'
The 88-year-old said despite Presley being racist, he was being coached by Black musicians.
May 24, 2021 at 7:18 pm
Legendary music producer and songwriter Quincy Jones didn't hold back in a recent interview, calling late musician Elvis Presley a “racist.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter (THR), the 88-year-old made a quick and critical remark about Presley, explaining why he chose not to work with him.
“No. I wouldn’t work with him,” Jones said. "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."
Despite Jones' remarks, Blackwell told talk show host David Letterman in a 1984 interview that he never met Presley but admitted that the "Can't Help Falling In Love" artist would imitate his style in recorded demos, according to a clip on YouTube.
"Is it true that when he heard you performing the material, that he would imitate your style when he recorded the song?" Letterman asked Blackwell.
"Well they did come out very close to the demos," Blackwell replied, adding that he would also write songs for the Tennessee native.
Jones isn't the first person in the music industry to scrutinize Presley and his questionable merit. Known to some as the “King of Rock N Roll,” Presley has been criticized for stealing Black music.
In March 2020, a resurfaced video of the late Ray Charles shows him calling out Presley for appropriating Black culture, primarily Black music and rhythm, as Blavity previously reported. Charles said everything Presley did originate from Black people and Black artists in the 1950s.
“Don't ask me no more questions about Elvis," Charles had said at the end of his rant.
Other artists over time have chosen not to harshly judge Presley. Famous Black musician B.B. King once said it wasn’t at any fault to Presley that he used Black music, according to Elvis Biography.
“I think once something has been exposed, anyone can add or take from it if they like,” King said. “He was just so great, so popular, and so hot – and so anything that he played became a hit. To me, they didn’t make a mistake when they called him The King.”
Presley even tried to justify his actions himself for using Black music in a 1957 interview with Jet Magazine.
“Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music,” he said.
As for Jones, this isn't the first time the Chicago native has opened up about his relationship with former musical artists.
He previously discussed working with artists like Charles and experimenting with drugs, as Blavity previously reported.
As part of the magazine’s “THR Icon” series, Jones was asked a variety of questions, some of which explored his love for jazz, experience working with Frank Sinatra and the unknown tale of how he got started in the entertainment industry in 1965.
During the interview, Jones recalled traveling to Hollywood in the mid '60s to compose music for the film Mirage. He said the film director, Truman Capote, complained of him being "a negro." Jones said at the time, Black composers weren't common in the film industry.
"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," the 88-year-old said.
"He [Capote] 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, 'F**k you, he’s doing the score.' I did, and I got nominated for an Oscar," he said.