Growing up in District Six, Trevor Jones described himself as a “hyper-sensitive” kid that stuttered, got bullied and was afraid of the gangsters. It did not help that he was poor and that his father had abandoned them. Trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty, young Trevor escaped into the world of cinema and it is here, at the age of 6, that he decided he would become a movie music composer.
It is no secret that at the age of 68, Trevor is a multimillionaire several times over but the road to international success was long and hard.
After his parents divorced, 5 year old Trevor’s mother, a machine worker with a meagre income, became the sole breadwinner of 3 young boys and struggled to make ends meet. Like most young boys of colour at that time, Trevor did not have the luxury of staying at home over weekends. One of his first jobs as a teenager was loading newspapers onto a van and of course, he used some of this money to go to the cinema. The cinema was where he could dream of places that a poor boy, living in the ghetto, would have no hope of seeing otherwise. What he saw on the screen was a place where he could be free of apartheid, where he could be anything that he wanted to be, regardless of skin colour.
At the age of 10, his gift for music got him accepted into the South African College of Music on a municipal bursary. At the age of 17, one of his teachers encouraged him to play for a visiting music Professor from London and this is how he got offered a place to study at the Royal Academy of Music in England. He did not have the money to study in England but the University of Cape Town developed a special bursary for him which provided him with enough money for one year. The course lasted four years so he had to work in the UK to pay for the remaining three years.
After completing the 4 years at the Academy, he worked for the next 5 years as a BBC classical music reviewer and in 1975, he decided to study towards an honours degree in music. He completed his honours in 1977 at York University and his masters in 1980 at England’s National Film School. He was the first student at the film school to complete a degree in music compositions for films.
It was in 1981, that he wrote the music for the short movie, The Dollar Bottom, which earned him his Oscar win and turned him into a highly sought after composer. He went on to compose more than 100 original scores for Hollywood movies and TV series and has worked with directors, actors and musicians such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Johnny Depp, Sylvester Stallone, Julia Roberts, Johan Travolta, Al Pacino, Ian McKellen, Hugh Grant, David Bowie, Sting, U2, Sinead O’Connor, Britney Spears, Sipho Hotstix Mavusa and Elvis Costelo.
In 1995, Time Magazine called Trevor “one of the top five composers” in the world that is “revolutionising music in film”. His pioneering work in the fusion of Acoustic and Electronic sounds set the benchmark for film and television scores.
Trevor is a jury member for the Oscars and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and in 1999, he became the first chair of music at the National Film and Television School. He received the title of Associate in 1998 and Fellow in 2006 of the British Royal Academy of Music. In 2005, Archbishop Desmond Tutu conferred an honorary PhD from the University of the Western Cape.
Despite the hardships he faced, Trevor said that growing up in District Six exposed him to a rich symphony of cultures, nationalities and musical influences. He says that he began to feel disconnected from South Africa, which is why he moved back home a few years ago. It is especially the time spent with his aunts and cousins on the Cape Flats that has made him feel rooted again.
His love for South Africa can be found in the Trevor Jones Scholarship, which is funded using his own money and the money of generous donors. The fund aims to identify talented young South Africans and provide them with the money to study at the National Film and Television School in the UK. The Scholarships stipulates that all students must return to South Africa to work in the film industry or in education. He feels strongly that young South Africans should contribute actively to building the country and he is an ardent advocate of improving the education system which he believes is the only way to ensure economic freedom.
Trevor includes Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika as one of the songs that most inspires him and Hugh Masekela as one of his favourite musicians. He is also actively involved in film making with top South African producers, Anant Singh and Mfundi Vundla.
Trevor and his wife are parents to 4 kids, 3 of whom who works in the film industry. His eldest daughter opted to follow a different path and became a psychiatrist. His eldest son is a cinematographer and has worked on the Harry Potter and James Bond movies. His youngest son is currently producing his first movie and his youngest daughter is an actress.
Trevor Jones came from nothing and built his own empire through sheer will and determination. He is a real life example of what it means to achieve what seems like the impossible. Of his journey from District Six to Hollywood, Trevor had this to say: “I wanted to be a film composer, and for a kid from District Six that was like wanting to be an astronaut. In hindsight it really was like aiming for the moon, but people did get to the moon – and I did get to Hollywood!”