When Beyoncé unveiled the tracklist to her seventh album, fans noticed three names among the songlist on Renaissance: rapper Beam, singer Tems, and music icon Grace Jones. Considering the nature of Beyoncé’s first single off of Renaissance – the Big Freedia-infused house-inspire “Break My Soul” – seeing Grace’s name among the few featured performers was both a surprise and something that made a lot of sense.
First emerging in the late 1970s as a part of Studio 54’s disco scene, Grace shifted in the 1980s, “blending together a who’s who of dance subgenres at the time — New Wave, funk, disco, and reggae,” according to Rolling Stone, who listed her “Pull Up to the Bumper” the 84th greatest Dance Song of all Time. Grace’s music has “oven disco, new wave, post-punk, art-pop, industrial, reggae, and gospel into a tight sound that is distinctly hers, threaded together with lilting, powerful vocals,” per Vice. On top of this undeniable musical presence, she has also been a fashion icon and a movie star. So, who is Grace Jones, exactly?
Ms. Grace Jones Is A Fashion Icon
Born Grace Beverly Jones on May 19, 1948, in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Grace grew up in a “painfully militant religious household,” per Vice. After moving with her family to a town near Syracuse, New York, Grace rebelled against her parents’ strict rules, discovering art, music, and self-expression. At age 18, she signed on as a model with the Wilhelmina Modelling agency. “‘They had trouble booking me, though,’ she recalled when speaking with Marie Claire. “I looked a lot freakier than I do now.”
In the 1970s, she relocated to Paris, where she shared an apartment with models Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange. Overseas, she became a sensation. “In three months, I was on four covers,’ she told Marie Claire. “My timing was just right… They went wild.” In the following decades, Grace and fashion would go hand in hand, with Vogue saying that she “has been a touchstone for designers in need of a muse to channel fearlessness, androgyny, and raw sex appeal.” She has inspired Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, and Jean-Paul Goude, and the ripples from her style can be felt to this very day.
However, her talents soon took her from the catwalk to the recording studio.
She Is A Music Legend
“I used to go over to her apartment in Paris, and she’d be singing to the radio, and I’d say, ‘Grace, you need to sing, honey,'” model Pat Cleveland told Marie Claire. Grace’s talents led to her signing with Island Records in 1977. That year, she released her debut studio album, Portfolio, which spawned her first hit, a cover of “La Vie En Rose,” which reached No. 10 on the US Dance Club charts. She released Fame in 1978, Muse in 1979, and Warm Leatherette in 1980. The latter included her first collaboration with producers Sly and Robbie and her first departure from disco.
“Pop music was never, ever my thing,” she told Dazed in 2015. “For me, pop is when everything begins sounding the same and melting into each other. Every now and then you’ll have individuals that stick out and actually have a chance. I’m sure there is a lot of talent out there, but it’s like they are bucking up against walls instead of maneuvering around it. I was more underground, and I used to look at everyone in pop and think that I didn’t want to sing because I don’t want to be like that. But now, all the songs sound alike except from a handful.”
Grace’s 1981 album, Nightclubbing, received critical acclaim when it was released. It peaked at No. 32 on the Billboard 200, and critics have noted its long-lasting effect on music. Grace continued to record and perform for decades following, though she did take a break at one point to focus on a new venture.
Ms. Grace Jones Is A Movie Star
Grace always wanted to be an actress, and her success as a music star finally afforded her the chance to fulfill that dream. Though she appeared in Deadly Vengeance in 1981, her main breakthrough came in 1984’s Conan the Destroyer. Grace portrayed Zula the Amazonian warrior opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan. The following year, Grace portrayed May Day in A View To A Kill, a film featuring Roger Moore as James Bond and Christopher Walken as Max Zorin. One of her latest film roles was that of Death in Gutterdammerung, a film that featured Henry Rolling, Iggy Pop, Lemmy, Josh Homme, Nina Hagen, and Slash.
She’s Been Married
Grace and her longtime collaborator Jean-Paul Goude welcomed a son, Paulo. She married Atila Altaunbay in 1996 and divorced him in 2004. Though reports say she married Chris Stanley, she denied the marriage in her memoirs. She also had a noteworthy love affair with Dolph Lundgren.
“I love women, but I’ve never had a relationship with a woman,” she told The Guardian. “Having a threesome is fun, but never a relationship. I like to experiment, and as an actress, I always thought it’s good to be open about a lot of things.”
Ms. Jones Is Not Afraid To Speak Her Mind
When Beyoncé announced Grace Jones as one of the collaborators on her Renaissance album, it raised a few eyebrows considering what Grace said of Bey earlier. “Trends come along and people say, ‘Follow that trend.’ There’s a lot of that around at the moment,” she wrote in her 2015 memoirs, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, per Newsweek. After naming artists like Beyoncé, Madonna, Rihanna, and Miley Cyrus, Grace wrote, “I cannot be like them—except to the extent that they are already being like me,” Jones said, before later adding that such stars “are not off the beaten track” but are instead “in the middle of the road.”