by Celeste Montaño
Though his turn as the venerated Virginian veteran is certainly his most high-profile role to date, Hamilton is only one among many of Jackson’s gigs—he is, after all, not only an actor and singer, but also a writer and an activist.
Though he made his Broadway debut as an original ensemble member of The Lion King and worked his way up to the lead role of Simba, Jackson’s breakthrough role arrived with the charismatic and ambitious Benny in the 2008 Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights. The musical famously marked the beginning of a lasting friendship between Jackson and Lin-Manuel Miranda, a fact few have forgotten after Miranda uttered the memorable line “I don’t know about God, but I believe in Chris Jackson” during his Tony acceptance speech for Best Original Score.
Shortly after leaving Heights, Jackson won a Daytime Emmy Award for the song “What I Am,” which he wrote with Bill Sherman for Sesame Street. His busiest year to date was 2014, when he starred in three Broadway shows: After Midnight, Bronx Bombers, and Holler if Ya Hear Me. Though short-lived, all three shows were significant in their shared project to carve a wider space for performers of color on Broadway. And in the case of Holler if Ya Hear Me, to further legitimize rap as a musical art form that deserves a place within musical theatre, an issue that Jackson feels strongly about.
Jackson said to Playbill in 2014, “I am delighted every time I go to work and am reminded of the fact that, as an artist, I feel like I am able to promote and to help bring to the forefront a forum that’s really important and one that at times have been marginalized as something or the other.”
Though the frenzy surrounding Hamilton is currently in full swing and is only bound to increase with the upcoming Tony nominations, Jackson continues to pursue endeavors close to his heart. Chief among them is promoting organizations like Autism Speaks, which raises awareness and funds for research on autism spectrum disorders. Jackson’s son was diagnosed with autism during In the Heights’ off-Broadway run, and his family has become diligent in advocating for kids with autism and their families ever since.
For several years now, Jackson’s passion for prioritizing the stories of marginalized communities and widening the scope of Broadway’s musical landscape has continuously put him at the forefront of social change, and he shows no signs of taking a break.