June 13, 2024

Broadway’s Cort Theatre to be renamed for revered actor James Earl Jones

One of the most endeared and enduring talents in the acting world has earned a tremendous honor: Broadway’s Cort Theatre is being renamed for James Earl Jones.

Photo: Getty Images

As reported by Deadline, the announcement was made on Wednesday by the Cort’s owner the Shubert Organization, which revealed the 110-year-old theater will be named the James Earl Jones Theatre when it reopens later this year after extensive renovations. The honor is being bestowed upon the 91-year-old star of stage, television and film “in recognition of Mr. Jones’s lifetime of immense contributions to Broadway and the entire artistic community,” said the organization in a statement. In addition to the renaming, the Cort will include a new wing when it reopens, at which time the Shubert Organization will formally dedicate the building in tribute to Jones.

“He’s an icon,” Robert E. Wankel, chairman and chief executive of the Shubert Organization, told the New York Times. “[H]e really is one of the greatest American actors, and this is just a perfect match.”

As the esteemed actor expressed in a statement to Deadline, the honor is a full-circle moment. “For me standing in this very building sixty-four years ago at the start of my Broadway career, it would have been inconceivable that my name would be on the building today,” he said. “Let my journey from then to now be an inspiration for all aspiring actors.”

Specifically, Deadline notes Jones’ “breakthrough” moment took place at the Cort in his second Broadway role, Sunrise at Campobello. Jones would go on to appear in 19 more Broadway productions and win Tony Awards in 1969 and 1987 for his roles in The Great White Hope and Fences, respectively. He was also awarded the Tony’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 as well as a National Medal of Arts and a Kennedy Center Honor.

Film audiences Gen X and younger might know Jones best for his iconic voicing of Darth Vader in the Stars Wars franchise or The Lion King‘s Mufasa—not to mention as King Jaffe Joffer of Zamunda in both Coming to America and its 2021 sequel. But Jones has also won two Emmys and a 1977 Grammy as well as a 2011 Honorary Award Lifetime Achievement Oscar, meaning the icon is also an EGOT with a career now spanning seven decades. In all, an incredible career for a man whose acting career was almost an impossibility due to a childhood stutter.

Like Jones, the Cort is also a legend as the only surviving, still active, legitimate theatre on Broadway designed by famed theatre architect Thomas Lamb, as its webpage explains. It will be only the second theater to be named after a Black artist since the August Wilson Theatre, another well-established venue which was renamed soon after Wilson’s death in 2005. Per Deadline, while the renaming of the Cort has reportedly been in the works for some time, it also aligns with a commitment made by the Shubert and several other Broadway owners to name at least one new venue for a Black artist, as outlined in Black Theatre United’s New Deal For Broadway.

“The Shubert Organization is so incredibly honored to put James—an icon in the theatre community, the Black community, and the American community—forever in Broadway’s lights,” said Wankel in a statement to the outlet. “That James deserves to have his name immortalized on Broadway is without question.”

As for James, in an interview with the Times about the honor, he simply said: “It means a lot…It’s too heavy for me to try to define.”

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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