The newly restored Cort Theatre on Broadway has been renamed after James Earl Jones, becoming the second theater on the Great White Way named after a Black artist.
Monday's ceremony included Norm Lewis singing “Go the Distance,” Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “Make Them Hear You” and words from Mayor Eric Adams, Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson. The 91-year-old Jones did not attend.
The honor adds to the many that the iconic actor has amassed, including two Emmys, a Golden Globe, two Tony Awards, a Grammy, the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors. He also was given an honorary Oscar and a special Tony for lifetime achievement.
“It means everything. You can’t think of an artist that has served America more,” director Kenny Leon told The Associated Press ahead of the ceremony. “It’s like it seems like a small act, but it’s a huge action. It’s something we can look up and see that's tangible.”
The renaming comes after a wide Broadway coalition of theater owners, producers, union leaders, creators and casting directors hammered out a series of reforms and commitments in 2021 for the theater industry to ensure equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.
One requirement of the so-called New Deal for Broadway was that the Shubert, Nederlander and Jujamcyn theater chains have at least one of their theaters named after a Black artist. Artists like LaChanze, Audra McDonald, Wendell Pierce, Billy Porter and Leon backed the proposals.
Jujamcyn already has the August Wilson Theatre and the Nederlander Organization will soon rename the Brooks Atkinson Theatre after Lena Horne, marking the first time a Black woman will have a Broadway theater named in her honor.
The three-tier Cort Theatre — at 138 W. 48th St. — opened in 1912 and was built by and named for John Cort, general manager of the Northwestern Theatrical Association.