- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Jane Jackson Harley has one of the best pairs of ears in the country. Maybe she inherited them from her legendary dad, who uncovered a few good acts in his day. It doesnt matter, though, where she got them, because the talent coordinator for the Apollo Theater catapults young people to stardom.

Take DAngelo, for example, the R&B; singer out of Richmond who just won two Grammys for his sophomore album, "Voodoo, " and his song "Untitled (How Does It Feel) " a few years after those ears of Ms. Jackson Harleys told her this young man could sing.

Then theres Dru Hill, four guys out of Baltimore who have amassed a handful of Billboard Music Awards, a couple of Soul Train Awards and an NAACP Image Award. Ms. Jackson Harley groomed the quartet, formerly known as 14 Carat Gold.

Thats not to mention local comedian-turned-actor David Chappelle, who cracked up audiences here and on the silver screen in such movies as "Youve Got Mail" and "The Nutty Professor." A joke landed him in Ms. Jackson Harleys stable of would-be stars whom she cultivated and took to the Apollo in New York, the breeding ground for talent.

"David Chappelle was 14 years old and just beginning Duke Ellington School of the Arts when he went to the Apollo and got booed. But he came back in later years and got a standing ovation, " Ms. Jackson Harley says proudly.

Ms. Jackson Harley, 60, finds potential talent and cultivates it. She retired from the D.C. public school system in the late 80s after suffering an injury, and then she founded Kemet Productions, a nonprofit business that grooms aspiring talent.

"A lot of people in the entertainment industry who hold top-level positions were former educators. We are taught to do everything… . Its the best training I could have ever received truly invaluable, " she says.

Its all in a days work for the native Washingtonian and former counselor at Stevens Elementary School in Northwest D.C. She commutes regularly between Washington, New York and Los Angeles. Quiet moments in her Southwest home are few, but she considers what she does to be a labor of love.

"I really try to help people achieve their goals in the entertainment industry whether they want to be writers, entertainers or a part of the technical or production staffs, " she says.

Like a reporter with a nose for news, Ms. Jackson Harley can spot raw talent a mile away. But the mother of three sons doesnt qualify as a pushover. She learned from 25 years as a counselor whether people are prepared to buckle down and get to work or whether they just want to play.

"I can recognize after all these years if a person is committed and focused. And youve got to work very hard and have to know that success doesnt happen overnight. Thats the problem: Lots of kids want to be stars overnight, but thats not the case. It takes about three years to hone their skills and develop. Hard work and sacrifice are whats needed, " Ms. Jackson Harley says.

Every Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m., Ms. Jackson Harley holds auditions at Howard Universitys Blackburn Center in Northwest. Thats where she makes the hard decision on whether a person gets a chance to perform at her monthly showcase at the Blackburn Center. The next showcase is scheduled for March 19. She tries to include everybody in some capacity she never discourages anyone from his or her dreams.

"I never turn down anybody. I try to do everything that I can to help them do the best they can, " she says.

Whether its voice, dance or music lessons, Ms. Jackson Harley goes the extra mile to help an aspiring artist perfect his or her skill. As a result, folks often call after taking her advice and ask to audition again, she says.

She has auditioned children as young as 3 and adults in their mid-70s. The Apollo has an allure, a mystique that never ceases to amaze her, she says.

"A 72-year-old man came in and said he just wanted to do the Apollo. It was his lifes dream. Its amazing how many people have tears in their eyes onstage at the Apollo. They never thought they would get there, " she says.

Thats why she tailors the showcases in such a way that aspiring artists have the chance to perform for audiences and get constructive feedback, too. She believes the more one performs, the better one becomes. The local showcases have an extra benefit they give performers a chance to get comfortable in front of audiences, she says.

Once a month, she escorts groups of 12 to New York, where they perform during the famed Wednesday Night Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater.

"The first four winners receive a cash award and the opportunity to return to the Apollo. If they win three times, then they perform at 'The Super Top Dog show. Thats the big show where a lot of industry executives show up and anything can happen, " Ms. Jackson Harley says with an air of expectancy.

Entertainment is in her blood.

Ms. Jackson Harley is the daughter of radio pioneer Hal Jackson, formerly of radio stations WINX-AM and WUST-AM, among others. He is the group chairman of Inner-City Broadcasting in New York.

When she was a little girl, she accompanied her father around town.

"My father took me everywhere with him. I grew up with the Cab Calloways, the Lena Hornes and the Moms Mableys. Name a celebrity, and I was with them. My father MCed the shows at the Howard Theater before moving to New York, where he became part owner of the Apollo Theater with Percy Sutton, " she says.

Mr. Sutton, who was the first black president of the Borough of Manhattan, is the founder and chairman emeritus of Inner-City Broadcasting Corp.

In 1989, Ms. Jackson Harley went to New York to visit her father, who had relocated there from the District. While there, she decided to check out the Wednesday Night Amateur Night at the Apollo. She knew then and there she could find a better pool of talent.

"I told him that I could find better talent. So I went on the road, and thats when I went to Richmond and found a young man who I thought was extra-talented. I worked with him and took him to the Apollo right away. That was Michael Archer, " Ms. Jackson Harley says of the heartthrob known as DAngelo.

At bedtime, most children listen to fairy tales not Ms. Jackson Harley.

"Other kids heard nursery rhymes; I got the legendary stories … Of course, my father knew everybody, and he helped to develop stars, and he touched everybody. [Because of that] there isnt anybody in this industry I cant approach for help and mention my dads name. Hes so very well liked, and that makes my life better, " Ms. Jackson Harley says with a smile.

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