Grace Beverly Jones (born 19 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, Basement Jaxx and Stanka Brljevic. In December 2016, Billboard magazine ranked her as the 40th most successful dance artist of all time.
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.
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, NY, 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.
Photo: Think Pynk0