Al Jolson

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Jolson, Al

(jōl`sən), 1888–1950, American entertainer, whose original name was Asa Yoelson, b. Russia. He emigrated to the United States c.1895. The son of a rabbi, Jolson first planned to become a cantor but soon turned to the stage. After his New York City debut in 1899, he worked in circuses, in minstrel shows, and in vaudeville; in 1909 in San Francisco he first sang "Mammy" in black face, and his style brought him fame and many imitators. The first of his many Broadway appearances was in La Belle Paree (1911); his film work began with The Jazz Singer (1927), the first major film with sound and a landmark in the history of motion pictures. After 1932 he had his own radio show. Among the songs he made famous were "April Showers," "Swanee," "Sonny-Boy," and "Mammy."


See H. Jolson, Mistah Jolson (1951); M. Freedland, Jolson (1972).

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Jolson, Al (b. Asa Yoelson)

(?1886–1950) popular singer, movie actor; born in Srednice, Lithuania. In 1894 he emigrated to Washington, D.C., with his family to join his father, a rabbi and cantor. He began singing on street corners, then went to New York City and made his debut as an extra in Children of the Ghetto (1899). By age 15 he was touring in vaudeville and minstrel shows as a boy soprano and whistler; by 1906 he was in San Francisco performing a solo act. His earliest success came with Lew Dockstader's Minstrels in 1909; he sang "Mammy" in blackface and thus launched his career and the stereotype with which he would forever be associated (and imitated); musically he blended a vaguely African-American style with his own expressive Jewish tradition. He was also known for whistling improvised melodies in the style of jazz musicians. In 1911 he made his first recording and starred in La Belle Paree in New York; he went on to star in a series of Broadway musicals, his last being Hold on to Your Hats (1940). In 1926 he sang three songs in an experimental sound short, April Showers, and then he starred in the first full-length "talkie" film, The Jazz Singer (1927). By 1932 he had his own radio program; during the 1930s his records were extremely popular and he appeared in several movies. He entertained troops during World War II, but changing tastes in music effectively ended his career until the release of the biofilm, The Jolson Story (1946), for which he dubbed the singing; this led to a brief revival of popularity (and imitations). His signature songs include "Swanee," "Sonny Boy," and "California, Here I Come."
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
A AL Jolson was America's most famous entertainer in the 1920s and starred in the first talkie movie - The Jazz Singer in 1927.
As Al Jolson he was on Broadway in 1912, making his first hit record, The Spaniard That Blighted My Life, and was soon the world's best-known performer, earning an astonishing pounds 5,000 a week when a labourer in Cardiff was lucky to get two quid.
He, by contrast, had vivid, firsthand memories of seminal stars like Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, and Bert Williams.
But shortly before his release, the former clubland Al Jolson impersonator from Leeds went to the Appeal Court on a legal aid case paid for by taxpayers.
Readers might be forgiven for approaching Michael Alexander's Jazz Age Jews with trepidation: the book features a blackface picture of Al Jolson on the cover followed by a dedication page that finds the author declaring his love for his parents through a quotation from Jolson's first big hit song, "Swanee": "I love the old folks at home!" If irony had not already been declared dead in these post-September 11 days it would be possible to imagine that Alexander is kidding--or at least making some statement about his own scholarly distance from this Jewish-authored act of Black travesty.
George Jessel plays the lead, but he is replaced by Al Jolson when the play is made into the first "talkie."
He (decided to) bring down a troupe of Broadway people, including Al Jolson, the great singer, to entertain Coolidge, that hopefully they could get him to smile -- which no one could -- and they'd take a picture, and he would look warm and fuzzy.
However, to paraphrase Al Jolson, "You ain't seen nothing yet!" Still in its infancy, television is set to explode in usage and influence in the new millennium as an integral component of a wider telecommunications industry, the largest growth industry in the later part of the 20th century.
This work, in which the artist covers his body in white, pink, green, and black, stirs up from the spectator's musings an assortment of memories: Noh theater, Al Jolson, the pink and blue bodies of Pontormo's famous Entombment, even Rodchenko.
Anecdotes about Irving Berlin, James Thurber, Bessie Smith, Al Jolson, and Ethel Waters, to name just a few of the dozens and dozens of individuals we meet in these pages, are deftly used to illustrate Douglas's larger arguments.
However, the singers who achieved stardom on radio in the 1920s were predominately white interpreters of black song - Al Jolson, Rudy Vallee, Eddie Cantor, and Sophie Tucker.