Actress and singer Grace Jones is best known for her roles in the feature films Conan the Destroyer and A View to a Kill as well as the ‘80s albums ‘Warm Leatherette,’ ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘Slave to the Rhythm.’
A Timid Child
Grace Jones was born on May 19, 1948, in Spanish Town, Jamaica. (Some sources have given the year as 1952, and the performer has later stated she doesn't keep track of her age.) She spent her early childhood there and was raised by her grandparents in a very religious environment while her parents established themselves in Syracuse, New York.
Jones was very thin and shy as a child and was often teased by her classmates, showing no signs of the bold and unfettered individuality for which she would become famous later in her life.
When Jones was 13, she and her siblings joined her parents in Syracuse, where their strict upbringing continued. After completing her primary schooling, Jones studied Spanish and theater at Onondaga Community College and Syracuse University; however, the rebellious streak that she had gradually developed soon led her drop out and move to Philadelphia to take a part in a play.
She moved to New York City the following year and signed with Wilhelmina Modeling Agency but found limited success. So in 1970 she traveled to Paris, France, to pursue her career.
From Runway to Recordings
In Paris, Jones’s striking, exotic appearance was greeted much more favorably than it had been in New York, and she soon found herself working as a model for some of the top names in the fashion world, including Yves Saint Laurent and Helmut Newton. She also made the covers of ELLE and Vogue magazines during this time and befriended the likes of Jerry Hall, Jessica Lange, Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld.
Jones’s success as a model soon opened new doors for her, and after landing a small role as a drug dealer in a little-known film titled Gordon’s War (1973), Jones eventually signed a recording contract with Island Records. Working with disco producer Tom Moulter, over the next few years she released three albums ‐ Portfolio (1977), Fame (1978) and Muse (1979).
Although none of these offerings found any significant commercial success, Jones’s risqué performances at such notable New York nightclubs as Studio 54 ‐ where she was often seen with her friend Andy Warhol ‐ won her a devoted following in the city’s gay and art scenes.
When popular music began to change at the dawn of the 1980s, Jones transformed with it, abandoning disco for a New Wave–influenced sound and adopting a more androgynous look to accompany it.
Produced by Jamaican duo Sly and Robbie, the next two albums that Jones released are arguably her best known. Featuring cover versions of songs by the likes of the Normal, the Pretenders, Roxy Music, Iggy Pop and the Police, Warm Leatherette (1980) and Nightclubbing (1981) both yielded chart-making singles, including the popping “Pull up to the Bumper.”
‘Conan,’ Bond and ‘Boomerang’
Following the release of the marginally successful album Living My Life (1982), Jones switched gears and took her distinctive look to the screen, appearing with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sarah Douglas in Conan the Destroyer (1984) and opposite Roger Moore and Christopher Walken in the 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill. Jones earned a Saturn Award nomination for best supporting actress for both films.
Over the next decade, Jones bounced back and forth between singing and acting. In 1985, she released Slave to the Rhythm and the compilation record Island Life, and the following year she appeared in the film Vamp and released the album Inside Story. Jones’s album Bulletproof Heart appeared in 1989 but was largely ignored, and in 1992 she had a role in the Eddie Murphy comedy Boomerang, playing a fiercely iconoclastic model named Strangé opposite Halle Berry, Martin Lawrence and David Alan Grier.
Despite her waning commercial success, Jones has continued to record, act and perform. Several compilation albums of her work have been released, including the three-disc retrospective The Ultimate Collection (2006) and the box set Disco (2015), and in 2008, she released Hurricane, her first full-length album in nearly twenty years.
Jones has also performed with artists as diverse as Luciano Pavarotti and Kylie Minogue; has been named as a primary influence for numerous contemporary superstars, including Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Santigold; and has been ranked by VH1 as among the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll. In 2015, she published a memoir, ironically titled I'll Never Write My Memoirs, and is the subject of the upcoming BBC documentary Grace Jones‐The Musical of My Life, directed by Sophie Fiennes.
May 19, 1948
- Jones was born in Jamaica and raised by her grandparents in a very humble, traditional and religious home. She was considered very shy and was often teased by fellow classmates.
- Jones’ range spans two-and-a-half octaves. In short, she can master the relatively high notes and sing in a characteristically “masculine” deep voice.
- Jones received a lifetime ban from Walt Disney World in Florida after flashing her breast during a live performance on stage.
- Jones was a known confidant to Andy Warhol. The two attended the wedding of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger and Jones co-starred in the movie, “The Destroyer.”
- Jones told the Daily Mail, “A friend has a great quote about me which would make a great song: ‘I'm not a rock star, I'm a soft person.’ I think it's hilarious. ‘I don't party now, and nobody really knows how to party with me any more. So I stay in a lot. I really am a home person. I like to have my own little parties at home.’”
- A frequenter of notable New York nightclubs in the 80s such as Studio 54, Jones quickly gained paramount exposure and a devoted following in the city's gay art scenes, earning her the title, “The Queen of Gay Discos.” Jones all collaborated with the late artist and social activist, Keith Haring.