James Earl Jones (born January 17, 1931) is an American actor. He is well-known for his distinctive bass voice and for his portrayal of characters of substance, gravitas and leadership. Since his Broadway debut in 1957, Jones has spent more than five decades as "one of America's most distinguished and versatile actors."
James Earl Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi, the son of Ruth (née Connolly), a teacher and maid, and Robert Earl Jones (1910–2006), an actor, boxer, butler, and chauffeur who left the family shortly after James Earl's birth. Jones and his father reconciled many years later in the 1980s and 1990s. Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents, farmers Maggie and John Henry Connolly, and is of African, Irish, Choctaw and Cherokee descent.
He moved to his maternal grandparents' farm in Jackson, Michigan at the age of five, but the adoption was traumatic and he developed a stutter so severe he refused to speak aloud. When he moved to Brethren, Michigan in later years a teacher at the Brethren schools started to help him with his stutter. He remained functionally mute for eight years until he reached high school. He credits his high school teacher, Donald Crouch, who discovered he had a gift for writing poetry, with helping him out of his silence. The teacher believed forced public speaking would help him gain confidence and insisted he recite a poem in class each day. "I was a stutterer. I couldn't talk. So my first year of school was my first mute year, and then those mute years continued until I got to high school."