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James Earl Jones Lauds MLK’s Impact on the Arts

James Earl Jones with Unified Voices and organizer Levi Watkins. (Photo credit: Will Kirk)
Calling Martin Luther King Jr. “a literary artist in his own right,” renowned actor James Earl Jones delivered an eloquent speech at the 24th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration on Jan. 13 in which he emphasized one of the late civil rights leader’s contributions that few today are aware of—his impact on the arts.

“King came to his work richly equipped with a knowledge of literature,” Jones said, “and helped to open doors of equality in the arts.” Recalling his start as an actor in New York in the early 1960s, Jones told a packed auditorium that King’s efforts “played a vital part in my own career as an artist and in the careers of many minority artists.”

King’s fight for equality in education, religion and politics led to an expansion of “artistic enfranchisement,” encouraging “a tremendous evolution in the theater,” Jones said. “It was the birth of what I call the theater of the people,” not a theater for the elite.

The Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor is famed for his riveting performances and resonant, bass voice. He intones the signature “This is CNN” slogan, and his was the voice that “launched 150,000 intergalactic battle groups,” noted President Bill Brody of Jones, the menacing voice of Darth Vader.

Dean/CEO Edward Miller and Ken Grant, VP for general services, presented the annual King Community Service Awards. For his legislative efforts involving civil rights, U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes received the Martin Luther King Jr. Ideals Award. Miller received a surprise Ideals Award for his efforts to increase diversity at JHM.

Unified Voices, the choral group energetically led by Gregory Branch, entertained with spirituals and a rousing, gospel-inspired rendition of “Happy Birthday” to honor Jones, who turned 75 on Jan. 17.

—Neil A. Grauer



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