Al Jolson

Star of stage, screen, radio and vaudeville, Al Jolson billed himself as ‘The World’s Greatest Entertainer’ and who could argue?
Working in blackface, he sang songs about his southern ‘Mammy’ with a passion that endeared him to Broadway audiences. His voice, a leathery blend of ringing brass and amber warmth with a sob in it, was probably the most imitated and parodied in the world.
As a musical comedy star, he belted out songs like ‘Swanee’ and ‘Is It True What They Say About Dixie?” with flair and vitality; and always demanding applause for his songs and jokes, he was rarely disappointed.
‘Electric’, ‘dynamic energy’ and ‘like a cyclone’ were some of the terms used to describe his performances on stage; and after singing for three hours with incredible energy, he could still call out: “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”
Though kind and sentimental, he left much to be desired as a human being. His was an enormous ego. He could be arrogant, surly and a braggart and many of his contemporaries disliked him. But he was a giant in the entertainment world, a hit maker, and always last on the bill because no one could follow him.
Though four times married, the love of his life was an audience - any audience. He needed applause the way a diabetic needs insulin.
Al Jolson did not just sing songs - he rattled your backbone and made you want to get up and dance. He was the greatest entertainer the world has ever known.

 

The Career of Al Jolson

The Al Jolson story is typical American rags-to-riches. Born as Asa Yoelson, an immigrant son of a Russian Jewish Cantor, he rose from poverty to international fame and wealth. Beginning as a youth in burlesque, vaudeville and minstrel shows, he rose to be a musical comedy star on Broadway, filling the Winter Garden for two decades.
As an entertainer he was a pioneer. First to take a top-class Broadway show on tour, first to make a talking picture, first to entertain the troops in three wars, first to have two films made of his life, and the first to cut a long-playing record. He sang the first songs by an ambitious youngster called Irving Berlin and gave George Gershwin his first big break.
His love affair with an audience lasted for four decades. He was married four times and his first two wives cited his audience as the other woman. Al Jolson was not everyone’s favourite person but the troops he entertained in World War II loved him.
The release of The Jolson Story in 1946, a film biography of his life starring Larry Parks, resurrected his sagging career and he became immensely popular with a new generation of admirers. At the end of 1947 he was voted the most popular male singer on radio.
A successful film sequel, Jolson Sings Again, was made in 1949 and with war erupting in Korea, Jolson again went off to entertain the troops. On the night of his death on 23 October 1950 they turned out the lights of Broadway and the traffic in Times Square came to a halt - Al Jolson was not just a great singer, he was a giant of the entertainment industry.

'You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet'

The International Al Jolson Society and A.J. Recordings

http://ww.jolson.org

for all books, videos and CDs of Al Jolson.

The Blackface with the Grand Opera Voice
 
King of Broadway
 
You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet
Al Jolson

Al Jolson

The Jazz Singer
 
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum
 
Entertaining the Servicemen
 
The Jolson Story

 

 

Sherwood Times