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Jamie Foxx returns to his roots, to answer the curious

He grew up in Terrell, Texas, as Eric Marlon Bishop, the quarterback of the high school football team. He played piano and sang in the choir at New Hope Baptist Church and ended up at U.S. International University in San Diego on a music scholarship.

He’s known today as Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx, but this particular Terrell Tiger is so versatile, most people don’t know he’s a Grammy winner, too. He loves to come home and will do so again Thursday, when he’s the guest of honor at the Brinker International Forum at the Winspear Opera House.

It’s not a performance, per se. Rather, it’s a question-and-answer session, with the questions posed by those in attendance.

“The audience, they want to look into your eyes,” Foxx says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “You tell them how intense it is, how hard it can be sometimes and what a blessing it is.”

“It,” of course, is fame and the stunning career Foxx has known since he left Highway 80, bound for the West Coast. He’s a father of two daughters and a sought-after marquee name who at the moment is making a movie with Oscar-winning director Quentin Tarantino and co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell. It’s a Western, titled Django Unchained, set in the era just before slavery ended. It’s set for release Christmas 2012.

Foxx says his Terrell upbringing “has kept me grounded, given me a sense of who I am. You know, in Terrell in those days, the community raised you. It’s not like what kids have to deal with today. It seemed at the time that it was a little more quiet, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

The former Terrell Tigers quarterback, too small to try his skills on the college level, much less for his beloved Dallas Cowboys, turned his attention to the keyboards. During his time at the San Diego university, he spent weekends in Los Angeles, where he drew the attention of Marvin Gaye’s former manager.

“And so I would hang at his place in Brentwood, just playing music,” Foxx says. “That’s also how I got on stage and started doing stand-up comedy.”

He won the notice of Spike Lee’s casting director, who had him come in and read for a show. That didn’t work out but led to the sitcom In Living Color, which made Foxx a star.

“I didn’t plan on being a comedian,” he says. “I wanted to be a singer.”

He was, of course, a funny kid growing up, so the folks in Terrell, well aware of Foxx’s natural gifts and wide range, were not at all surprised to see him emerge as a comedian, singer and actor. In 2004, he won the Oscar for his unforgettable performance as blind singer Ray Charles.

Standing in front of the world on Oscar night, looking into the eyes of such heroes as Clint Eastwood, was, for the kid from Terrell, his most memorable moment. He’d come a long way from watching movies at the Iris Theatre in downtown Terrell.

“It boomerangs you into a different atmosphere,” he says of the Oscar turning point. “You then have to be ready to really go to work. It’s an indescribable feeling, a moment like that.”

He laughs, however, at today’s teenagers, who know him for music, for having sung with Kanye West, but who don’t have a clue about Ray. They’re apt to say, “Oh, yeah, he was in Horrible Bosses.”

Now 43, he has a teenager of his own, a 17-year-old daughter now showing her own entertainment prowess. She appreciates her roots as much as her dad does his.

“I love Texas,” he says. “I love where I’m from. I love my Cowboys, my Rangers, my Mavericks, my Stars. I’m just a Texas boy, and that’ll never change. I come back and make the rounds with my friends, people I’ve known all these years. There are no friends like the friends I have in Texas. Can’t wait to see ’em.”

8 p.m. Thursday at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St., Dallas. $20 to $150, 214-880-0202,


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