James Earl Jones to fete Lincoln at Fords Theatre

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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WASHINGTON James Earl Jones, Katie Couric and Kelsey Grammer plan to honour Abraham Lincoln on the eve of his 200th birthday in a star-studded gala Wednesday to help celebrate the $25 million renovation of Fords Theatre.

The theatre where Lincoln was assassinated is reopening after an 18-month facelift that included new, more comfortable seats, a modern lobby and new dressing rooms. A revamped museum will open later this spring and future plans are for building a Lincoln Center for Education and Leadership across the street.

The evening will include honouring Sidney Poitier and Star Wars director George Lucas with the Lincoln Medal. And President Barack Obama, who has evoked Lincolns legacy in his campaign, and his family have been invited to the party, along with the Presidents Own Marine Band.

Exxon Mobil Corp. Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, who led fundraising for the theatre, said officials already have garnered than $49 million for the renovation and ongoing projects. Organizers expect to raise even more, surpassing their $50 million goal, he said.

Exxon Mobil contributed $5 million to the project, and the District of Columbia government gave $10 million.

As the economy has faltered, Tillerson said some donors began to worry about whether they could contribute.

There were a lot of us that were worried we werent going to be sitting here today, he said. Some donors told him they had lost millions or even billions, but Tillerson said he worked to convince them of the projects significance.

Ive been personally fascinated and inspired by Lincoln since I was a child, Tillerson said. His ability to confront adversity with courage, find inspiration in challenges both personal and political, and shape leadership through the strength of diversity were extraordinary traits.

Also offering tributes to Lincoln on Wednesday are actress Audra McDonald from TVs Private Practice, actors Ben Vereen and Jeffrey Wright, and opera singer Jessye Norman.

The theatre will reopen to the public on Thursday for Lincolns birthday and then on Monday for Presidents Day. Regular tours resume on Feb. 17.



Associated Press writer Nafeesa Syeed contributed to this report.



On the Net:

Fords Theatre: http://www.fords.org/



Organizations: Fords Theatre, Exxon Mobil, Lincoln Center for Education Associated Press

Geographic location: District of Columbia

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