Al Jolson

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Jolson, Al

Jolson, Al (jōlˈsən), 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.
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WHO in the world of entertainment was born Asa Yoelson? | WHAT is the highest rank in the RAF?
As the story unfolds of Lithuanian born Asa Yoelson's laborious progress from the foothills of show business to unscaled heights, you get a picture of an irrepressible extrovert with an exceptionally high opinion of his abilities.