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Broadway Q&A: Jawan M. Jackson of ‘Ain’t Too Proud’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

“I love Melvin's spirit, his ability to bring all people together, and the way his voice commanded the crowd.”

Jawan M. Jackson stars as original Temptations member Melvin Franklin in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. The Detroit native, who has a knack for singing in that deep iconic basso voice, also played Franklin in the Broadway show Motown: The Musical. Ain't Too Proud reveals the incredible and triumphant story of one of pop music's greatest vocal groups. The Temptations had 42 top ten hits, won three Grammys, sold 16 million selling records and were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The show has a creative dream team that includes a book by Dominique Morisseau, direction by Des McAnuff and Tony Award-winning choreography by Sergio TrujilloAin't Too Proud was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Jackson was recently nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The show features the group’s hits including “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Get Ready,” “Just My Imagination” and many more. 

Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin in 'Ain't Too Proud' (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin in 'Ain't Too Proud' (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

When did you first learn about Ain't Too Proud?
Jawan M. Jackson: It was while I was still apart of Motown: The Musical in 2013. The first thing that went through my mind was that I have to be in this show. I didn't know how, or who I had to talk to, but I was sure I needed to be a part of the show.

As a proud Detroit native, what was your connection to The Temptations growing up?
JMJ: Motown has been embedded in my genetics since before I can remember. My grandmother loves Marvin Gaye and my introduction to the Motown sound was through her. My Temptations introduction was through my cousins, who would listen to them every chance they got. Especially the Temptations’ Christmas album. 

Can you talk about making your Broadway debut in Motown: The Musical?  
JMJ: Being cast in Motown: The Musical was my big break. I found the audition in the classified section in the Detroit Free Press, which was the local newspaper in Detroit. I decided to audition, even though I did not know what it was. I went to the open call and sang like I knew how to do it. Then, four auditions later, I landed in New York City for the final callbacks, where I had to learn a dance combination. The director and the creative team decided to give me a chance. I thank them every chance I get because I’m doing what I love to do.
What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw?
My very first Broadway show that I saw was Wicked when I moved to New York City in 2013. I was 25 years old and was in rehearsals for Motown: The Musical. When we got invited, I was completely amazed at the caliber of excellence onstage – singing and dancing at such a high level. It was incredible!
Melvin Franklin experienced so much success, but also so much tragedy. He died when he was 52. What qualities did he have that you love? And is there something you wish you could ask him?
From the stories I have gathered, Melvin impacted everyone he encountered. He had the biggest heart, and was always down for a good time. I love Melvin's spirit, his ability to bring all people together, and the way his voice commanded the crowd. His iconic basso was one of a kind, one that I strive (to emulate) daily when I hit the stage. If there was one thing I would ask him, it would be why he never put out any solo records outside of the Temptations.

When you did you know you had to be a performer?
When I was younger. As a child, I always loved music and I was always performing. I would do any type of performance that dealt with music, whether it was singing at a talent show, open mic, day camp, neighborhood party, or my mom making me sing at the family cook out or birthday parties.

But the responsible part of me wanted to make sure that I had a job or career that would pay my bills. However, my love for the arts solidified when my college professor encouraged me to audition for a play at the University. I did, and from that moment I was hooked.

Can you share the moment when you found out that you were cast in Ain't Too Proud?
JMJ: I was working Broadway Across America. My team called me, because I had booked another show days before. They said to me, "Well, it looks like you're going to have to figure out what you want to do because you, sir, just booked Ain't Too Proud!" I was in the break room and dropped to my knees to keep myself from losing it while at the office. The next thing I did was run and tell my boss the great news, who then ran and told the entire floor that I got the part.

You had a special encounter with Whitney Houston where she gave you this advice: “Put God first, stand on the foundation that was set for you and love everyone.” How did you meet her? 
I was working as an extra in the film Sparkle. We were told that we couldn’t speak to “talent.” However, the first thing Whitney did when she walked on set at any time was speak to everyone!  Later during filming, we would have set switch over breaks. And once I got the chance to sit in the waiting area with her, she would talk to people and encourage them.

For more of the best of New York Theater this season, check out our list of the 15 Most Highly Anticipated Broadway Shows of 2020.

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