Questlove Says He Found the Woman Who Started His Record Collection at 5: 'She Planted the Seed'
"You can change the trajectory of someone's life in one full swoop without even knowing it," he tells PEOPLE
While talking to PEOPLE about his upcoming appearance as Curley in Disney+'s Pixar film Soul, The Roots drummer and co-frontman (born Ahmir Khalib Thompson) revealed that his team has located the woman who "planted the seed" for his music career — and massive vinyl record collection.
"We're waiting for the right moment to do a connection because I want to see her and thank her in person," the 49-year-old tells PEOPLE. "'You have this beautiful soul.'"
Questlove says he met this "total stranger" following one of his dad's Lee Andrews & the Hearts shows, where a woman struck up a conversation and asked him if he also wanted to be a musician like his father. Naturally, Questlove said yes and named "random artists" as his favorites: Neil Sedaka, Chaka Kahn and the Jackson Five.
"The next night, I had this elaborate gift of a turntable and three records," he says. "She didn't realize then, but she planted the seed of what I became now."
"That's when I started collecting records. People who know me know that my record collection means everything in the world to me," he adds. "To start with those three records in 1976 and then cut to 2020, in which now I buy libraries in old jazz stations that shut down. I buy 10,000 to 20,000 records at a time."
Questlove found the woman, whom he only knew as "Ellie," after sharing a photo on Facebook of a note she wrote back then.
"I knew talking to strangers was a no-no but my instincts paid off. She started writing it down," he wrote in his initial post.
Questlove says that after he posted the note on his Facebook, a radio station in Portland, Maine — where he met the woman — talked about the Questlove anecdote on the air. Then, Ellie's daughter saw his post and realized that the penmanship was similar to her mother's. After showing her mom the note, she said she remembered writing it.
"People do small acts, really not knowing what a difference it'll make in the world," he says.
The Roots drummer also recalled a similar full-circle moment where an act of kindness that he had forgotten of his own made a monumental difference.
"I saw a story maybe 12 years ago of a Black ballerina that wanted to study in Russia. I totally forgot I reached out to the mom and paid her tuition," he says. "I had totally forgot about it and she just hit me with a DM today saying thank you."
"You can change the trajectory of someone's life in one fell swoop without even knowing it," he adds.
It's a story similar to the one Questlove is excited to help tell as Curley on Soul, which answers the question, "What do you want to be remembered for?"
The film follows Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, a middle school band teacher who gets his big break years after inspiring Curley to follow his own dreams as a jazz drummer (Sound familiar?).
"My character Curley gets to pay it forward to a person that sort of saved his life and changed the trajectory of his career," he says.
Questlove also reveals that he wasn't initially expecting to be a part of the film in this way. In fact, he thought they just wanted him to "recommend some cool music" for the soundtrack.
"I thought, man, if I could just recommend some songs, I'll be the coolest person ever," he says. "They started chuckling at each other like, 'Oh, no. You're Curley.' Then I just fainted."
Questlove also explains that the movie's producers and directors wanted him to talk as his "natural self" in the film instead of playing a character in an animated way.
"I also loved the irony of a man with an afro is named Curley but the character is bald-headed," he says with a laugh.
Soul is out Christmas Day on Disney+.
For more from Questlove, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
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