An acclaimed king of stage and revered queen of screen received high honors recently when actors James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson were lavished symbols of appreciation from communities who honored them by renaming a Broadway theater and street in Harlem.
“We have always acknowledged our kings and queens,” radio personality Gary Byrd said recently, “throughout history when others ignored our deities and royal status, we have always known we wear the crown.”
Decades ago, Byrd recorded “The Crown,” a song Stevie Wonder published and released on his Wondirection Record label.
The single won global attention, topping the charts in England with lyrics that regale a long list of Africans he said “wears the crown.”
Recently, the names of two thespians added credibility to his claim.
During a dedication ceremony at the century-old Cort Theater — located at West 48th St. — the James Earl Jones Theater debuted an era of diversity in the theater industry.
Located between sixth and seventh avenues the Broadway venue is only the second named for a Black male.
The other is named for playwright August Wilson.
On Sept. 17, a Caribbean themed block party celebrated Cicely Tyson Way, a newly designated city marker located at the thoroughfare of 101st between 3rd Ave. and Lexington Ave. where the legendary actress was raised at 178 East 101st St.
Born in the Bronx, soon afterwards her Caribbean parents from Nevis, relocated to East Harlem.
The twin islander won her coveted theater award for her starring role in 2013, for the Broadway hit “The Trip To Bountiful.”
To her credit she also won accolades and three Emmy awards portraying strong female characters in “Sounder,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” “Roots,” and “The Color Purple.”
Tyson was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors lifetime achievement award in 2015; the following year President Barack Obama named her the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
As if those high honors were not enough, Tyson’s peers in the film industry presented her an honorary Oscar trophy in 2018 — which sealed her status as a Triple Crown winner.
“She’s our queen…all hail the queen!” Avril Daley, a longtime fan shouted.
Community activist and radio broadcaster Felipe Luciano echoed the sentiment during his Saturday “Latin Roots (Routes) program aired on WBAI –FM.
New York City Council member Diana Ayala attended the unveiling and made a presentation during a tribute ceremony which included special guest appearances from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Poet Laureate of El Barrio Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, poet Juan Papa Santiago, the Dominican Folklore Dance Troupe, the Caribbean-American Sports, Youth Movement Steel Orchestra, and other recognized community members.
DJ Krayze and Liquitone Entertainment capped the regalia playing dance hits East Harlem residents reveled until late into the evening.
Ironically, on Sept. 12, Tyson’s collaborator in the theater received similar attention for his unrivalled contribution when a VIP crowd showed up to celebrate the 91-year-old actor and the dedication of the James Earl Jones Theater.
Acclaimed for his roles in 21 Broadway plays, a generation recognized his voice as the television network’s signature locator who periodically announced “this is CNN.”
Although identified by his distinguishable tone as Mufasa in “The Lion King,” and Darth Vader in “Star Wars,” Jones also starred in theatrical productions at the venue he now commands notice.
He first performed there in the early fifties in “Sunrise at Campobello.”
Since then he has collected three, Tony Awards and is among elite achievers of acting status referred to as EGOT – Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner.
In 1991 Jones emerged the only actor to receive two Tony Awards in the same year.
Jones is also a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honor. He was crowned king of the ring for his portrayal of “The Great White Hope” in 1969 and showered with platitudes playing alongside Diahann Carroll in “Claudine.”
Most memorable though was his stellar performance in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Fences” in 1987.
Among the celebrities who attended the lavish ceremony were actors Samuel L. Jackson and his wife actress, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, choreographer Debbie Allen, actress Phylicia Rashad, filmmaker Lee Daniels, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Norm Lewis (the first Black actor to portray the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera”) and Mayor Eric Adams.
“Today’s renaming of this freshly renovated venue as the James Earl Jones Theatre recognizes all that he has contributed, an imprint this enormously gifted actor, performer and leader has made on our dynamic Broadway community,” Adams said.
Ironically, the people’s monarchs shared the stage for the last time when they co-starred in the revival of “The Gin Game” seven years ago.
The two Tony Award winning actors, first appeared together 50 years prior in “A Hand is On The Gate.”
They also appeared Off-Broadway in “The Blacks” and in the film The River Niger and TV movie “Heat Wave.”
Harlem’s thespian queen died last year at age 96.
“Long live the king, long may he reign.”
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