September 11th, 2000
Quincy Jones: What Makes an American Master?
Lesson Overview


"Quincy Jones is the compleat man, like
DaVinci–a master of all trades, artistic and humanistic."
–David Salzman

What makes an "American Master"? It’s much more than just
being famous. This kind of greatness has an ineffable quality, but
it has something to do with being the kind of person who influences
culture and changes the world in some way. In this lesson plan, students
explore the qualities that define greatness, as they study the career
of one American Master, Quincy Jones. They also study the context
of Quincy Jones’ work — black music in the 20th century. And finally,
students get an opportunity to imagine themselves having a career
as a ground-breaking international star who embodies these qualities
of greatness.

Quincy Jones broke new ground in 1961 when he became the vice president
of Mercury Records; he was the first high-level black executive of
an established record company. Born in 1933, he has distinguished
himself by continuing to reinvent himself, by working in an incredible
diversity of media, and by creating unique fusions of style. In the
mid-50s he worked with jazz greats Duke Ellington and Count Basie;
recently, he’s incorporated hip-hop and other modern influences into
his work. In the meantime, he has written film scores, produced feature
films, launched a television company and a record label, and started
a non-profit organization called The
Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation
. Longevity and diversity are
two key qualities that distinguish this artist and his 50-year career.

You don’t need to have the American Masters show for this lesson
plan, although it would make a good addition to the first activity.
The lesson plan has three parts. In the first part, students learn
about Quincy Jones and discuss the qualities that make him great,
as well as the difficulties and challenges he has faced.

In the second part of the lesson, students study the context in which
Quincy Jones has worked during his lifetime. He was born in 1933,
so students study the 1930s through the present, learning about major
milestones and trends in black music. Through this activity, they
will contextualize the achievements of artists like Quincy Jones,
and learn about the landscape of cultural and social limitations based
on race in the 20th century.

Finally, in the third part of the lesson, students will imagine that
they are about to launch a career of significance in the entertainment
industry. They create an imaginative timeline that traces their "career",
creating a mental map of ways they might influence the world in the

Grade Levels

6 – 8

Subject Areas

Language Arts; History


Students will:

  • conduct biographical research on the 50-year entertainment career
    of Quincy Jones

  • conduct research on black music in selected decades of the 20th
    century, learning about music and race in American culture

  • participate in a discussion on "qualities of greatness",
    gaining a clear picture of important qualities that help build and
    sustain a successful career, including the ability to overcome difficulties

  • create and present an imaginary timeline of their future career,
    based on Internet research


  • Student Organizer handouts, printed out in advance
  • Posterboard
  • Pencils, markers, yarn, glitter, old magazines, and other art
  • Optional: A videotape of American Masters: Quincy Jones,
    and a VCR and monitor
  • Optional: Internet-connected computers in the classroom
    for student research. If you have only one computer, you may want
    to use it to demonstrate some of the websites to the class. If no
    computer is available, you can still do this lesson plan.
  • Optional: print a biography of Quincy Jones (from one of
    the sites below), or borrow his recent autobiography from the library
    and select some excerpts to read out loud in class.
    Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones
    , Doubleday, 2001. ISBN:

Selected Websites

These sites will be useful to students for research,
and you may also want to use them to prepare for classroom discussions.
A student organizer listing these sites is included with this lesson
plan, which you can use as a handout if they will do the research
at home. If you plan to use these sites on a computer in the classroom,
be sure to bookmark them in advance.

Masters Quincy Jones Career Timeline

An interactive timeline.


A web companion to the documentary by Ken Burns. Includes a jazz
timeline, music clips, bios of key artists, and other information
students will find useful in their research.

from Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America

A breakdown of the people and events that have shaped the history
of black music. Focuses on the 20th century.

PBS Frontline interview

Quincy Jones was interviewed as part of the Frontline report The Two
Nations of Black America.

Biography of Quincy Jones

This web page has information about some of the artists he’s worked
with, including Michael Jackson. (See clips of Michael Jackson’s videos
from albums produced by Jones here.)

Magazine interview

Jones’ Listen Up Foundation

Q’s non-profit organization dedicated to helping the world’s young

Q with Love

Warner Bros. Records site for the Quincy Jones record of the same
name. With a biography and videos.

Jook Joint

Information about Quincy’s CD "Jook Joint" with sound samples
and short stories about each song. Also, Quincy has written an essay
explaining the jook joint as part of this history of black music.

Jones Discography

Stamp on Black History

A tour of black history told through stamps, created by students as
part of ThinkQuest. Includes information on black music and bios of
some significant artists.


Historical Understanding:

and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns

  • Understands patterns of change and continuity in the historical
    succession of related events
  • Knows how to impose temporal structure on their historical narratives
    (e.g., working backward from some issue, problem, or event to explain
    its causes that arose from some beginning and developed through
    subsequent transformations over time)
  • Knows how to periodize events of the nation into broadly defined

the historical perspective

  • Understands that specific individuals and the values those individuals
    held had an impact on history

Language Arts

and uses information for research purposes

  • Organizes information and ideas from multiple sources in systematic
    ways (e.g., time lines, outlines, notes, graphic representations)

the characteristics and components of the media

  • Understands the different purposes of various media (e.g., to
    provide entertainment or information, to persuade, to transmit culture,
    to focus attention on an issue)
  • Understands aspects of media production and distribution (e.g.,
    different steps and choices involved in planning and producing various
    media; various professionals who produce media, such as news writers,
    photographers, camera operators, film directors, graphic artists,
    political cartoonists)


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