Quincy Jones: Whitney "blew my mind"

From left: Arista Records head Clive Davis, Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston, and Bobby Brown are pictured in Beverly Hills, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 1996.

Music producer Quincy Jones first met Whitney Houston when she was 16, when the New Jersey teenager was coming out of a tradition of gospel and soul music, and he knew even then that she had an incomparable gift.

On "CBS This Morning," Jones said he'd first learned of Houston by way of the team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, with whom he'd worked on "The Wiz": "They told me about this little girl, how talented she was. She was working on a reading on some Broadway show they wrote. They kept raving about how great she was.

"I heard her and it blew my mind."

Of the daughter of Grammy-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston and cousin of Dionne Warwick, Jones said, "I guess it's in the DNA."

He said Whitney Houston "has what we call 'it.' When you have 'it,' it's like God left his hand on your shoulder longer than everybody else, because she has something that comes from deep down and it's a combination of amazing emotion, but also the instrument that can deliver that emotion, because it has to be the transportation for the emotion.

"You either have it or you don't," Jones told Charlie Rose. "I met Michael [Jackson] at 12, I met Aretha [Franklin] at 12. I met Stevie Wonder at 12. They had it then at 12 years old. Whitney, I think, she was of the same ilk."

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Jones talked about Houston's background in gospel and her great success as a pop singer of love songs: "But all of the great singers started in gospel - Aretha, Dionne Warwick, Sarah Vaughan, all of those started in gospel. That's part of the tradition. But when they come out, they understand what pure, deep-down motion is all about. 'Emotion lotion,' we used to call it. They understand that. Then the transition [to pop] is easy. That's not difficult.

"A song is the vehicle," he said. "A great song can make a terrible singer sound good, but a good singer - you put a great song on top of that, you're really in great shape! But a great singer cannot make a bad song work, never. I've learned that 45 years ago. You cannot save a song, I'm sorry!"

Rose asked why for some, like Michael Jackson or Amy Winehouse, living up to the remarkable gift they have becomes a burden for them almost impossible to bear.

"Well, it's a serious battle between what the gift is that God gave you, and in most cases they know that, and to give back to God, [which] is the training of that voice and doing the homework and a lot of hard work to make sure that they can really express themselves perfectly," Jones said. "Spiritually, if you don't have all of it together, success is very difficult to work with, man, because the bottom line [is], you have to have humility with the creativity and grace with your success."

Click on the video player above to watch the complete interview with Quincy Jones.

"I've seen thousands of artists literally, and those elements, when you get up there and you go from a person nobody knows [to people saying] 'There goes Michael Jackson!' 'There goes Whitney Houston!', you have to be very prepared spiritually to know how to deal with it and take it in the right way and not think it's normal, and realize that you're still a terminal for a higher power. You have to have that attitude.

"I think the Sinatras and Ray Charles, all of those people got that attitude going. That's why they stay around so long."