The Marian Anderson Award Gala was held Monday at the Kimmel Center, honoring the Tony, Emmy and Academy Award-winning actor James Earl Jones for his outstanding contributions to theater, film and television.
Hosting the 2012 Award Gala was the critically acclaimed actor and Screen Actors Guild Award recipient Terrence Howard. The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Cristian Macelaru, was joined by celebrated tenor Lawrence Brownlee; local rising star Christian Eason (a Marian Anderson Young Artist Study-Grant recipient); and jazz/pop recording artist Jean Carne, with Emmy Award-winning keyboardist Bill Jolly.
In announcing the program, Award Chair Pamela Browner White noted, “Much like Marian Anderson, Mr. Jones has made vast contributions to American life though his unparalleled range as an actor — from small early roles in landmark films like Dr. Strangelove, to innovative plays like “The Great White Hope,” and powerful films like “Field of Dreams” and “Cry the Beloved Country” — even voicing the character of Mufasa in the Disney animated film, “The Lion King.” He has remained a tremendous presence for decades on the Broadway stage in both classic and innovative performances, and he has also made his mark on television — winning two Emmy Awards in one year (1991) for ‘Gabriel’s Fire’ and ‘Heatwave,’ and even stopping by Sesame Street to recite the alphabet.”
White continued, “His incredible career has been such a hallmark in who he has represented in his roles. He has been there and has eloquently represented our community. He has always been there and has always represented in getting those remarkable roles and has helped so many artists in their own career.”
Previous Award recipients include Mia Farrow (2011), Bill Cosby (2010), Maya Angelou and Norman Lear (2008), Richard Gere (2007), Sidney Poitier (2006), Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (2005), Oprah Winfrey (2003), Danny Glover (2002), Quincy Jones (2001), Elizabeth Taylor (2000), Gregory Peck (1999), and Harry Belafonte, (1998). No Award was given in 2004 or 2009.
Created in 1998, the Marian Anderson Award is named for the most celebrated contralto of the 20th century. Anderson was born in South Philadelphia on February 27, 1897, to an African-American family of modest means. Recognized for her extraordinary musical talent, as well as her generosity and commitment to others, Anderson was a master of repertoire across operatic, recital and American traditional genres.
Throughout her musical career, she also played an incalculably vital role in the acceptance of African-American musicians in classical music and in other previously segregated performing arts genres. She died in 1993 at age 96.
“This goes back to Marian Anderson — period,” said Browner White. “She was a miracle. There is no way that she should have happened. She decided early on to be an opera singer, and you know how long opera singers have to study. She wasn’t able to go to school in Philadelphia; she was African American. When she wanted to take her classes, she had to take then privately. She didn’t have the money to do that; it was the community that allowed her to do that. They surrounded her and supported her career. She was not supposed to happen in the early 1900’s. We feel like for a lot of our young artist, they need their community to surround and support them, just like Marian Anderson.”
Since its inception, the Award program has provided more than $500,000 in free public programs, residencies, commissions and grants to young artists.