Detroiter portrays Temptation for Broadway play up for 12 Tonys

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
Jawan M. Jackson, center, plays Melvin Franklin on Broadway in “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations."

"Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations," by Detroit's own Dominique Morisseau, is up for 12 Tony awards this Sunday, including Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical. 

Detroit native Jawan M. Jackson plays bass singer extraordinaire Melvin Franklin. The Detroit News phoned Jackson before his Tuesday evening performance at Broadway's Imperial Theatre to chat local roots, Motown mojo and his grandmother's musical influence. 

So where did you grow up in the city?

Jawan M. Jackson: “In the Seven Mile area near Greenfield, close to the Southfield Freeway.”

Where’d you do high school and college? 

“I went to Ferndale High School, and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2011 in Communications and Theater Arts.”

Did you like Motown music as a kid?

“That’s what was played in my house – it’s never not been a part of my life. My grandmother especially loved Marvin Gaye.  She was my first introduction to Motown, and had a VHS tape with him singing the national anthem at some big basketball game. She said, ‘You need to watch this and learn to sing like him.’”

What’s your favorite Motown group?

“I love Stevie Wonder – both his musicianship and artistry. He’s an amazing songwriter and amazing singer. But I was old school, so also always leaned toward the Temptations. ‘Cloud Nine’ is my all-time favorite, but I also love ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ and ‘Power.’ That’s a great song. Melvin Franklin’s bass is really booming in that.”

Tell me about Melvin.

“He’s the foundation, the heart of the group. He’s the jokester – anyone who’s ever been around him, they all say Melvin was everyone’s best friend. Even to this day, when people bring Melvin’s name up, there’s always a smile or chuckle.”

And you have his Motown I.D?

“I do. I met Melvin’s wife, Kim English, in Los Angeles. I didn’t know she’d be in the audience. They told me after the show, and said she wanted to meet me. So of course I was a ball of nerves. But we locked eyes and she ran up and embraced me. And I just started crying. She said I had her husband down to a ‘t’. She’s become such an inspiration, and a person I talk to often. She took me out to dinner, and gave me some artifacts of his. I have his tour pass, his Motown I.D. and some other things. She’s just been a gem in my life.” 

Did you always sing?

“Yes. I’ve been singing ever since I can remember. My grandfather was a preacher, and my cousin was a pastor, so I started in the church. In school, I was always in the choir. My mother used to push me – because I was really, really shy. I was scared to sing. But I sang my first choir solo at 12, and thought, OK, I can do this.” 

What would you like to do next? 

“My contract is for a year, and then we’ll see. But I’d love to be in an action movie. I always wanted to be a superhero. That’s the dream.” 

'73rd Annual Tony Awards'

8 p.m. Sunday


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