Grace Beverly Jones (b19 May 1948) is a Jamaican singer, songwriter, supermodel, record producer, and actress. Born in Jamaica, she moved when she was 13, along with her siblings, to live with her parents in Syracuse, New York. Jones began her modelling career in New York state, then in Paris, working for fashion houses such as Yves St. Laurent and Kenzo, and appearing on the covers of Elle and Vogue. She worked with photographers such as Jean-Paul Goude, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, and Hans Feurer, and became known for her distinctive androgynous appearance and bold features.
In 1977, Jones secured a record deal with Island Records, initially becoming a star of New York City’s Studio 54-centered disco scene. In the early 1980s, she moved toward a new wave style that drew on reggae, funk, post-punk and pop music, frequently collaborating with both the graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude and the musical duo Sly & Robbie. Her most popular albums include Warm Leatherette (1980), Nightclubbing (1981), and Slave to the Rhythm (1985). She scored Top 40 entries on the UK Singles Chart with "Pull Up to the Bumper", "I’ve Seen That Face Before", "Private Life", and "Slave to the Rhythm". In 1982, she released the music video collection A One Man Show, directed by Goude.
Jones appeared in some low-budget films in the US during the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1984, she made her first mainstream appearance as Zula in the fantasy-action film Conan the Destroyer alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sarah Douglas, and subsequently appeared in the 1985 James Bond movie A View to a Kill as May Day. In 1986, she played a vampire in Vamp, and acted in and contributed a song to the 1992 Eddie Murphy film Boomerang. She appeared alongside Tim Curry in the 2001 film Wolf Girl. For her work in Conan the Destroyer, A View to a Kill, and Vamp, she was nominated for Saturn Awards for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1999, Jones ranked 82nd on VH1’s 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll, and in 2008, she was honored with a Q Idol Award. Jones influenced the cross-dressing movement of the 1980s and has been an inspiration for artists including Annie Lennox, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Lorde, Róisín Murphy, Brazilian Girls, Nile Rodgers, Santigold, and Basement Jaxx. In December 2016, Billboard magazine ranked her as the 40th most successful dance artist of all time.
1948–73: Early life, and modeling career
Grace Jones was born in 1948 (though most sources say 1952) in Spanish Town, Jamaica, the daughter of Marjorie (née Williams) and Robert W. Jones, who was a local politician and Apostolic clergyman The couple already had two children, and would go on to have four more. Robert and Marjorie moved to the East Coast of the United States, where Robert worked as an agricultural labourer until a spiritual experience during a failed suicide attempt inspired him to become a Pentecostal minister. While they were in the US, they left their children with Marjorie’s mother and her new husband, Peart. Jones knew him as "Mas P" (‘Master P’) and later noted that she "absolutely hated him"; as a strict disciplinarian he regularly beat the children in his care, representing what Jones described as "serious abuse". She was raised into the family’s Pentecostal faith, having to take part in prayer meetings and Bible readings every night. She initially attended the Pentecostal All Saints School, before being sent to a nearby public school. As a child, shy Jones had only one schoolfriend and was teased by classmates for her "skinny frame", but she excelled at sports and found solace in the nature of Jamaica.
"[My childhood] was all about the Bible and beatings. We were beaten for any little act of dissent, and hit harder the worse the disobedience. It formed me as a person, my choices, men I have been attracted to… It was a profoundly disciplined, militant upbringing, and so in my own way, I am very militant and disciplined. Even if that sometimes means being militantly naughty, and disciplined in the arts of subversion. ."
— Grace Jones, 2015.
Marjorie and Robert eventually brought their children – including the 13 year old Grace – to live with them in the US, where they had settled in Lyncourt, Salina, New York, near Syracuse. It was in the city that her father had established his own ministry, the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, in 1956. Jones continued her schooling and after she graduated, enrolled at Onondaga Community College majoring in Spanish. Jones began to rebel against her parents and their religion; she began wearing makeup, drinking alcohol, and visiting gay clubs with her brother. At college, she also took a theatre class, with her drama teacher convincing her to join him on a summer stock tour in Philadelphia. Arriving in the city, she decided to stay there, immersing herself in the Counterculture of the 1960s by living in hippie communes, earning money as a go-go dancer, and using LSD and other drugs. She later praised the use of LSD as "a very important part of my emotional growth… The mental exercise was good for me".
She moved back to New York at 18 and signed on as a model with Wilhelmina Modelling agency. She moved to Paris in 1970. The Parisian fashion scene was receptive to Jones’ unusual, androgynous, bold, dark-skinned appearance. Yves St. Laurent, Claude Montana, and Kenzo Takada hired her for runway modelling, and she appeared on the covers of Elle, Vogue, and Stern working with Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, and Hans Feurer. Jones also modelled for Azzedine Alaia, and was frequently photographed promoting his line. While modelling in Paris, she shared an apartment with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange. Hall and Jones frequented Le Sept, one of Paris’s most popular gay clubs of the 1970s and ’80s, and socialised with Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld. In 1973, Jones appeared on the cover of a reissue of Billy Paul’s 1970 album Ebony Woman.
1974–79: Transition to music, and early releases
Jones was signed by Island Records, who put her in the studio with disco record producer, Tom Moulton. Moulton worked at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, and Portfolio, was released in 1977. The album featured three songs from Broadway musicals, "Send in the Clowns" by Stephen Sondheim from A Little Night Music, "What I Did for Love" from A Chorus Line and "Tomorrow" from Annie. The second side of the album opens up with a seven-minute reinterpretation of Édith Piaf’s "La Vie en rose" followed by three new recordings, two of which were co-written by Jones, "Sorry", and "That’s the Trouble". The album finished with "I Need a Man", Jones’ first club hit. The artwork to the album was designed by Richard Bernstein, an artist for Interview.
In 1978, Jones and Moulton made Fame, an immediate follow-up to Portfolio, also recorded at Sigma Sound Studios. The album featured another reinterpretation of a French classic, "Autumn Leaves" by Jacques Prévert. The Canadian edition of the vinyl album included another French language track, "Comme un oiseau qui s’envole", which replaced "All on a Summers Night"; in most locations this song served as the B-side of the single "Do or Die". In the North American club scene, Fame was a hit album and the "Do or Die"/"Pride"/"Fame" side reached top 10 on both the US Hot Dance Club Play and Canadian Dance/Urban charts. The album was released on compact disc in the early 1990s, but soon went out of print. In 2011, it was released and remastered by Gold Legion, a record company that specialises in reissuing classic disco albums on CD. Jones’ live shows were highly sexualized and flamboyant, leading her to be called "Queen of the Gay Discos."
Muse was the last of Jones’ disco albums. The album features a re-recorded version "I’ll Find My Way to You", which Jones released three years prior to Muse. Originally appearing in the 1976 Italian film, Colt 38 Special Squad in which Jones had a role as a club singer, Jones also recorded a song called "Again and Again" that was featured in the film. Both songs were produced by composer Stelvio Cipriani. Icelandic keyboardist Thor Baldursson arranged most of the album and also sang duet with Jones on the track "Suffer". Like the last two albums, the cover art is by Richard Bernstein. Like Fame, Muse was later released by Gold Legion.
1980–85: Breakthrough, Nightclubbing, and acting
With anti-disco sentiment spreading, and with the aid of the Compass Point All Stars, Jones transitioned into new wave music with the 1980 release of Warm Leatherette. The album included covers of songs by The Normal ("Warm Leatherette"), The Pretenders ("Private Life"), Roxy Music ("Love Is the Drug"), Smokey Robinson ("The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game"), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers ("Breakdown") and Jacques Higelin ("Pars"). Sly Dunbar revealed that the title track was also the first to be recorded with Jones. Tom Petty wrote the lyrics to "Breakdown", and he also wrote the third verse of Jones’ reinterpretation. The album included one song co-written by Jones, "A Rolling Stone". Originally, "Pull Up to the Bumper" was to be included on the album, but its R&B sound did not fit with the rest of the material. By 1981, she had begun collaborating with photographer and graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude, with whom she also had a relationship.
The 1981 release of Nightclubbing included Jones’ covers of songs by Flash and the Pan ("Walking in the Rain"), Bill Withers ("Use Me"), Iggy Pop/David Bowie ("Nightclubbing") and Ástor Piazzolla ("I’ve Seen That Face Before"). Three songs were co-written by Jones: "Feel Up", "Art Groupie" and "Pull Up to the Bumper". Sting wrote "Demolition Man"; he later recorded it with The Police on the album Ghost in the Machine. "I’ve Done It Again" was written by Marianne Faithfull. The strong rhythm featured on Nightclubbing was produced by Compass Point All Stars, including Sly and Robbie, Wally Badarou, Mikey Chung, Uziah "Sticky" Thompson and Barry Reynolds. The album entered in the Top 5 in four countries, and became Jones’ highest-ranking record on the US Billboard mainstream albums and R&B charts.
Nightclubbing claimed the number 1 slot on NME’s Album of the Year list. Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 40 on its list of Best Albums of the 1980s. Nightclubbing is now widely considered Jones’ best studio album. The album’s cover art is a painting of Jones by Jean-Paul Goude. Jones is presented as a man wearing an Armani suit jacket, with a cigarette in her mouth and a flattop haircut. While promoting the album, Jones slapped chat-show host Russell Harty live on air after he had turned to interview other guests, making Jones feel she was being ignored.
Having already recorded two reggae-oriented albums under the production of Compass Point All Stars, Jones went to Nassau, Bahamas in 1982 and recorded Living My Life; the album resulted in Jones’ final contribution to the Compass Point trilogy, with only one cover, Melvin Van Peebles’s "The Apple Stretching". The rest were original songs; "Nipple to the Bottle" was co-written with Sly Dunbar, and, apart from "My Jamaican Guy", the other tracks were collaborations with Barry Reynolds. Despite receiving a limited single release, the title track was left off the album. Further session outtakes included "Man Around the House" (Jones, Reynolds) and a cover of "Ring of Fire", written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore and popularized by Johnny Cash, both of which were included on the 1998 compilation Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions. The album’s cover art resulted from another Jones/Goude collaboration; the artwork has been described as being as famous as the music on the record. It features Jones’ disembodied head cut out from a photograph and pasted onto a white background. Jones’ head is sharpened, giving her head and face an angular shape.A piece of plaster is pasted over her left eyebrow, and her forehead is covered with drops of sweat.
Jones’ three albums under the production of the Compass Point All Stars resulted in Jones’ One Man Show, a performance art/pop theatre presentation devised by Goude and Jones in which she also performed tracks from the albums Portfolio ("La Vie en rose"), Warm Leatherette, ("Private Life", "Warm Leatherette"), Nightclubbing ("Walking in the Rain", "Feel Up", "Demolition Man", "Pull Up to the Bumper" and "I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)") and from Living My Life, "My Jamaican Guy" and the album’s title track. Jones dressed in elaborate costumes and masks (in the opening sequence as a gorilla) and alongside a series of Grace Jones lookalikes. A video version, filmed live in London and New York City and completed with some studio footage, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Long-Form Music Video the following year.
After the release of Living My Life, Jones took on the role of Zula the Amazonian in Conan the Destroyer (1984) and was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 1985, Jones starred as May Day, henchman to main antagonist Max Zorin in the 14th James Bond film A View to a Kill; Jones was also nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress. That same year, she was featured on the Arcadia song "Election Day". Jones was among the many stars to promote the Honda Scooter; other artists included Lou Reed, Adam Ant, and Miles Davis Jones also, with her boyfriend Dolph Lundgren posed nude for Playboy.
After Jones’ success as a mainstream actress, she returned to the studio to work on Slave to the Rhythm, the last of her recordings for Island. Bruce Woolley, Simon Darlow, Stephen Lipson and Trevor Horn wrote the material, and it was produced by Horn and Lipson. It was a concept album that featured several interpretations of the title track. The project was originally intended for Frankie Goes to Hollywood as a follow-up to "Relax", but was given to Jones.All eight tracks on the album featured excerpts from a conversation with Jones, speaking about many aspects of her life. The interview was conducted by journalist Paul Morley. The album features voice-overs from actor Ian McShane reciting passages from Jean-Paul Goude’s biography Jungle Fever. Slave to the Rhythm was successful in German-speaking countries and in the Netherlands, where it secured Top 10 placings. It reached number 12 on the UK Albums Chart in November 1985 and became the second-highest-ranking album released by Jones. Jones earned an MTV Video Music Award nomination for the title track’s music video.
After her success with Slave to the Rhythm, Island released Island Life, Jones’ first best-of compilation, which featured songs from most of her releases with Island (Portfolio, Fame, Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing, Living My Life and Slave to the Rhythm). American writer and journalist Glenn O’Brien wrote the essay for the inlay booklet. The compilation charted in the UK, New Zealand and the United States.The artwork on the cover of the compilation was of another Jones/Goude collaboration; it featured Jones’ celestial body in a montage of separate images, following Goude’s ideas on creating credible illusions with his cut-and-paint technique. The body position is anatomically impossible.
The artwork, a piece called "Nigger Arabesque" was originally published in the New York magazine in 1978, and was used as a backdrop for the music video of Jones’ hit single "La Vie en rose". The artwork has been described as "one of pop culture’s most famous photographs". The image was also parodied in Nicki Minaj’s 2011 music video for "Stupid Hoe", in which Minaj mimicked the pose.
1986–89: Slave to the Rhythm, Island Life, further films, Jones teamed up with music producer Nile Rodgers of Chic, whom Jones had previously tried to work with during the disco era. The album was recorded at Skyline Studios in New York and post-produced at Atlantic Studios and Sterling Sound. Inside Story was the first album Jones produced, which resulted in heated disputes with Rodgers. Musically, the album was more accessible than her previous albums with the Compass Point All Stars, and explored different styles of pop music, with undertones of jazz, gospel, and Caribbean sounds. All songs on the album were written by Jones and Bruce Woolley. Richard Bernstein teamed up with Jones again to provide the album’s artwork. Inside Story made the top 40 in several European countries. The album was Jones’ last entry to date on US Billboard 200 albums chart. The same year, Jones starred as Katrina, an Egyptian queen vampire in the vampire film Vamp. For her work in the film, Jones was awarded a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1987, Jones appeared in two films, Straight to Hell, and Mary Lambert’s Siesta, for which Jones was nominated for Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. Bulletproof Heart was released in 1989, produced by Chris Stanley, who co-wrote, and co-produced the majority of the songs, and was featured as a guest vocalist on "Don’t Cry Freedom". Robert Clivillés and David Cole of C+C Music Factory produced some tracks on the album.
1990–2004: Boomerang, soundtracks, and collaborations
In 1990, Jones appeared as herself in the documentary, Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol. 1992 saw Jones starring as Helen Strangé, in the Eddie Murphy film Boomerang, for which she also contributed the song "7 Day Weekend" to its soundtrack. Jones released two more soundtrack songs in 1992; "Evilmainya", recorded for the film Freddie as F.R.O.7, and "Let Joy and Innocence Prevail" for the film Toys. In 1994, she was due to release an electro album titled Black Marilyn with artwork featuring the singer as Marilyn Monroe. "Sex Drive" was released as the first single in September 1993, but due to unknown reasons the record was eventually shelved. The track "Volunteer", recorded during the same sessions, leaked in 2009.
In 1996, Jones released "Love Bites", an up-tempo electronic track to promote the Sci-Fi Channel’s Vampire Week, which consisted of a series of vampire-themed films aired on the channel in early November 1996. The track features Jones singing from the perspective of a vampire. The track was released as a non-label promo-only single. To this day, it has not been made commercially available. In June 1998, she was scheduled to release an album entitled Force of Nature, on which she worked with trip hop musician Tricky. The release of Force of Nature was cancelled due to a disagreement between the two, and only a white label 12" single featuring two dance mixes of "Hurricane" was issued at the time; a slowed-down version of this song became the title track of her comeback album released ten years later while another unreleased track from the album, "Clandestine Affair" (recycling the chorus from her unreleased 1993 track "Volunteer"), appeared on a bootleg 12" in 2004. Jones recorded the track "Storm" in 1998 for the movie The Avengers, and in 1999, appeared in an episode of the Beastmaster television series as the Umpatra Warrior.
The same year, Jones recorded "The Perfect Crime", an up-tempo song for Danish TV written by the composer duo Floppy M. aka Jacob Duus and Kåre Jacobsen. Jones was also ranked 82nd place on VH1’s "100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll". In 2000, Jones collaborated with rapper Lil’ Kim, appearing on the song "Revolution" from her album The Notorious K.I.M. In 2001, Jones starred in the made-for-television film, Wolf Girl (also known as Blood Moon), as an intersex circus performer named Christoph/Christine. In 2002, Jones joined Luciano Pavarotti on stage for his annual Pavarotti and Friends fundraiser concert to support the United Nations refugee agency’s programs for Angolan refugees in Zambia. In November 2004, Jones sang "Slave to the Rhythm" at a tribute concert for record producer Trevor Horn at London’s Wembley Arena
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