James Earl Jones: A Voice in the Crowd


March 19, 1996

People all around the world know the voice of James Earl Jones. From
Star Wars fans listening to the voice of Darth Vader to news junkies who hear a
voice that dramatically intones AThis is [email protected] just before all the cable network=
s station breaks to children who hear the stately voice of the majestic Mufasa,
the king of the jungle in Walt Disney Pictures= animated The Lion King - people
know this deep harmonious voice belongs to this consummate actor of stage and
screen.

James Earl Jones was born January 17th, 1931, in Arkabutala Township,
Mississippi. His natural parents, Ruth and Robert Earl, moved away to the
Mississippi Delta when he was an infant. Raised for the rest of his young life
by his maternal grandparents, James Earl developed a close relationship with the
Connollys. AMaggie and John Henry were always there, day by day, and they became
for me, once and for all, my mama and my [email protected] (18) .

Less than three years later, the Connollys moved to Dublin Michigan
where James Earl and his >brother= Randy grew up in a remodelled chicken barn.
His early school life had a great impact on his style of speech and diction. AOn
my first day at school, I could not believe my ears,@ recalls Jones, AThey
called me James Earrrrl instead of James Uhl, as it had sounded in the
[email protected](40).

After the initial shock of hearing Northern dialect, Jones Aquickly
absorbed this different rhythm and [email protected] and embarked on the first half of a
long vocal journey leading to his distinctive speaking style. Until he was 14
years old, James Earl Jones rarely spoke mostly due to shyness, preferring
silence to the sound of his own voice.

Around the age of 10, James Earl Jones witnessed his brother, Randy,
having an epileptic seizure. His grandmother applied the only remedy she knew -
a thimbleful of bluing dye - and told James Earl to run for help. After
travelling a mile through a Michigan blizzard and recalling the sight of his
brother on the floor with Ablue liquid spilled out of his mouth,@ Jones= epic
battle with stuttering began. At a local store, Jones panicked and couldn=t
speak. After a time, he Afinally calmed down and the words came. The doctor was
called. Randy recovered. But the stuttering - that [email protected](42)

The same year his brother almost died, Jones was sexually assaulted by
the minister of a church he attended. The incident scarred him for life. Jones
recalls, AI was afraid and very confused. I was on my guard from then on...I had
no need for [email protected](54).

The Aturning [email protected] in Jones= ability to cope with stuttering
came in Professor Donald Crouch=s English classroom in high school. After
falling in love with Longfellow=s AThe Song of Hiawatha,@James Earl was inspired
to write a poem about his love for grapefruit. He patterned his work after
Longfellow=s cadence and rhyme scheme. When Professor Crouch accused Jones of
plagiarism Jones was forced to recite his work from memory in front of the class
(63).

Considering his honour of greater value than the teasing of his
classmates James Earl approached the front of the room to avoid academic
disgrace: AI was shaking as I stood up, cursing myself. I strained to get the
words out, pushing from the bottom of my soul. I opened my mouth -- and to my
astonishment, the words flowed out smoothly, every one of them. There was no
stutter. All of us were amazed, not so much by the poem as by the
[email protected](66).

The voice of James Earl Jones was a new sound to himself and everyone
around him. AMy voice had changed, almost without my awareness, so in addition
to the novelty of being able to speak, I could now speak in a deep, strong
[email protected](67). Crouch and Jones became inseparable for the remaining three years
of high school, resurrecting the powers of speech in the young lad through
public speaking, debating, orating and acting.

The training he received from Crouch enabled Jones to win a public
speaking championship and a college scholarship to the University of Michigan.
In 1947, he enrolled intending to pursue a medical degree. He worked several
jobs and enrolled in US Army Reserve Officers Training Corps to support his
college career. But science took its toll on Jones, and he changed majors to
the study of drama but Atechnically, because there was not an official degree in
drama then at the university, (his) degree had to be in [email protected](75).

James Earl Jones=