THE BUZZ: On Sunday, July 29th 2012, I had a double delight on Broadway. First, I saw Memphis at the Shubert Theatre. I understand why it won four 2010 Tony Awards including Best Musical. The singing was tremendous and the music rocked! Inspired by actual events, Memphis is about disc jockey Dewey Phillips – one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s – and his love affair with soul music and a Black club singer. It gave a taste of the race relations climate back then and the power of music and youth culture as a transformative force.After Memphis, I received the second treat which was meeting James Earl Jones and his son Flynn. Jones was around the corner at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre playing in The Best Man by the now late Gore Vidal. A childhood friend, Paul Johnson, was able to get my sister and me in to see him backstage. While we were waiting, we saw Cybill Shepherd, John Stamos, and Kristin Davis (who is a yogi) as well. We sat for a little while with Jones and talked about family. Although I didn’t go into acting, I grew up in the theatre. My parents founded the first multicultural theatre company in New York City in the 1950s – The Scott Kennedy Players. They lived where the ABC TV studios are today on 66th Street and had a studio at 1151 Broadway. My parents used to put us (me and my siblings) in their productions around the world. My dad, Dr. James Scott Kennedy, was a professor of Communications and Theatre Arts at Brooklyn College and also had theatre companies in Africa and Australia. Jones knows my aunt, Adrienne Kennedy – who wrote the Obie Award-winning play, Funnyhouse of a Negro. Jones is an actor’s actor with a distinguished five-decade career. He has won Tony awards in 1969 for The Great White Hope and in 1987 for Fences. He has acted in many Shakespearean roles: Othello, King Lear, Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Abhorson in Measure for Measure, and Claudius in Hamlet. He has had so many notable roles on Broadway in productions such as On Golden Pond, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Driving Miss Daisy. The film crowd may know Jones as the voice of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy.
The irony of his distinctive voice is that when he was five years old, Jones developed a stutter so severe he refused to speak. In working hard to overcome that speech impediment, he developed one of the most recognizable and booming voices around. Early on my dad was a speech pathologist, known as Mr. Speech. He often used the story of James Earl Jones in his teaching as motivation for his students. It is definitely a powerful story of success which shows us that anything is possible with intention and attention… in other words, focus and a lot of practice!
Contributed by Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, Ph.D., MBA.