POSTED June 4 2012

James Earl Jones to receive Marian Anderson Award

James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll in "Claudine"

Owner of the most recognizable voice on the planet, James Earl Jones, 81, knows what it’s like not to be heard.  Tongue-tied by a stutter he mostly refused to speak between the ages of 10 and 14. When a teacher goaded Jones to read his own poetry aloud the future actor developed that rumbling bass, so memorable as the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars, as Mufasa in The Lion King and as the voice of CNN and Verizon.

Today Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced that Jones would be the recipient of the 2012 Marian Anderson Award, a prize typically bestowed upon actor/activists such as Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier and Mia Farrow. Jones says he’s not the type to lead the charge to topple the barricades, but is more like Anderson, the contralto who crossed the color line in opera, in that he’s the guy who goes around barriers. He’s also like Anderson in that he has a once-in-a-century voice.

Talking to him made me remember his great stage and screen roles. Of the latter, I am inordinately fond of his role in Claudine (1974) as the garbage collector who romances Diahann Carroll, and in The Great White Hope (1970), as the Jack Johnson-like boxer with a white mistress (Jane Alexander), who incites racists to charge him with miscegenation.

Your favorite Jones performance (on stage or screen)? Does anyone else have a voice as distinctive?



  1. Jeff Weinstein says:

    Harvey Fierstein

  2. Miz Val says:

    Nick Molte
    William Shatner
    Gregory Peck
    Jimmy Stewart
    Al Pacino
    Jack Nicholson
    Johnny Depp
    Marlon Brando

  3. Horse Badorties says:

    Don LaFontaine Peter Coyote

  4. wwolfe says:

    Currently, the actor whose voice comes to mind for its distinctiveness is Alan Rickman. Aside from “Claudine,” which is the best work by Jones that I’ve seen, I enjoyed him in “Clear and Present Danger,” and as Alex Haley in both “Roots” mini-series.

  5. Carrie Rickey says:

    @Wwolfe: Rickman possesses what I would call a sepulchral voice. Like JEJ, he uses pauses to great dramatic effect.

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