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James Earl Jones honored in renaming of historic N.Y. Broadway theater

The 110-year-old Cort Theatre’s name change honors Jones’ lifelong contributions to Broadway and the artistic community.
James Earl Jones performs as the titular character in 'Oedipus Rex' at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1977.
James Earl Jones performs as the titular character in 'Oedipus Rex' at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1977.Jack Mitchell / Getty Images file

For over a century, New York’s Cort Theatre has produced entertainment that fueled the legacy of Broadway. Today, the notable theater continues to spotlight those who have made major contributions to artistry with its name change to the James Earl Jones Theatre, in honor of the famed actor. 

Located on 48th Street in Manhattan’s Theater District, the Cort Theatre has housed numerous productions, including “Sunrise at Campobello,” in which Jones made his stage debut in 1958, as Edward the house butler. Written by Dore Schary, the play tells the story of former President Franklin Roosevelt’s experience with polio and recounts his quest to save his political career.

“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,” Jones, 91, said in a statement from the Shubert Organization. “Let my journey from then to now be an inspiration for all aspiring actors.”

The name change was initiated by The Shubert Organization Inc., which owns and operates 17 Broadway and six off-Broadway theaters, including the Shubert Theater, where Jones has appeared in 14 productions.

Jones’ on-screen and off-screen presences propelled him to stardom, leading to three Tony Awards, a Grammy, two Emmys and an honorary Academy Award. He earned an NAACP Image Award for outstanding character voice-over performance for returning to the role of Mufasa in the 2019 version of “The Lion King” and famously provided the voice of Darth Vader in the early “Star Wars” films.

Jones continues to act, with his most recent Broadway performance being Weller Martin in the play “The Gin Game” with Cicely Tyson in 2015. He was also in “Coming 2 America” in 2021, appearing as King Jaffe Joffer of Zamunda alongside Eddie Murphy.

Jones will be honored through a formal dedication ceremony in the summer following completion of construction at the Cort Theatre. During the pandemic, the theater ceased operation for renovations, which include a new contemporary wing located off the building’s western face. Once the project is complete, the theater is set to reopen for productions.

“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,” Robert E. Wankel, Shubert CEO and board chair, said. “That James deserves to have his name immortalized on Broadway is without question.”

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