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Jones' voice attracts, resonates

| Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007

He is the voice of Darth Vader from "Star Wars" and Mufasa from "The Lion King."

That drew parents and children to Northland Public Library in McCandless at 9 a.m. Wednesday, waiting to hear James Earl Jones read aloud.

Jones, 76, arrived shortly before 11:30 a.m., read the story "Better Wait Till Martin Comes" from "The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales" and left about 15 minutes after he arrived.

There were a few long faces among the more than 300 attendees when the noted actor exited so quickly. But most were glad they came to hear and -- if they weren't in the back of the children's section -- see Jones.

"It was very short," said Yelena Kunkel of McCandless, who attended the reading sponsored by Verizon with her children Sophia Marie, 5, and Nathan, 3.

Kunkel was glad to hear Jones read even though she wished she could have gotten an autograph from the actor, who left without signing anything.

"But it was very nice," she said. "The kids loved it. We come here a lot for storytimes, and this was good for them to hear."

Amelia Bondi, 12, of McCandless, who attended with her sisters Caroline, 8, and Hannah, 7, thought Jones could have picked a day when he had more time to stay. But she enjoyed the reading, during which Jones, with a sly smile on his face, adopted a variety of voices.

"It was pretty funny," she said.

Library personnel had prepared for a large crowd, setting up chairs the night before. But Executive Director Sandra Collins acknowledged she was pleasantly surprised about the overflow crowd.

"It's very exciting, particularly with this turnout," said Collins, who was happy to have Jones for the brief visit. "He's got a busy schedule and we appreciate his donation of time."

More importantly, Collins said Jones' appearance puts an exclamation point on the importance of reading. Parents can and should promote reading, but star power tends to add emphasis. That's why a poster of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger encouraging kids to read is prominently displayed in the children's section of the library.

"Parents don't have nearly the effect of somebody outside the family who says the same thing, but can do it in the voice of James Earl Jones," Collins said. "It reinforces it, and it's not somebody you hear every day."

Jones didn't always have the voice of distinction.

His biography in the Academy of Achievement, a museum of living history in Washington, D.C., notes that Jones developed an incapacitating stutter at age 5 when he moved from Mississippi, where he was born, to live with his maternal grandparents in rural Michigan. He refused to speak, even in school, and remained mute until high school, when a teacher encouraged him to read aloud a poem he had written.

Jones began to compete in debates and oratorical contests, and in his senior year won a public speaking contest and college scholarship. He planned to study medicine at the University of Michigan, but was drawn to theater.

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