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James Earl Jones reads to kids

Mississippi native James Earl Jones read "Clifford's Family" with his deep authoritative voice to students at Gorenflo Elementary School in Biloxi, Miss., before Christmas.

Mississippi native James Earl Jones read "Clifford's Family" with his deep authoritative voice to students at Gorenflo Elementary School in Biloxi, Miss., before Christmas.

Jones' visit and the reading session are part of Verizon's "Reading and Healing" Literacy Campaign. About 20,000 "My Time" kits obtained by the Verizon Foundation wee given to children along the Gulf Coast who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. The comfort kits include books, magazines, art therapy tools and a journal.

Although James Earl Jones' deep and authoritative voice has led to numerous roles in film and television (including the voice of Darth Vader in the "Star Wars" films), he chose to be mute until he was in high school.

"I was a stutterer. I couldn't talk," Jones explained. "So my first year of school was my first mute year, and then those mute years continued until I got to high school."

He credits a 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.

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James Earl Jones won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1991 for his role as Gabriel Bird in "Gabriel's Fire."

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