On This Day

Al Jolson

Jazz Singer and Silent Actor Al Jolson

Full Name: Asa Yoelson
Profession: Jazz Singer and Silent Actor

Biography: Al Jolson was reputed to be the most well-known American entertainer of the 1920s. Born into a Jewish family in Lithuania, he emigrated with them to New York in 1894.

Jolson began as a vaudeville singer often singing in blackface. Throughout the singer's career he was particularly known for singing in blackface, a common theatrical convention of the time but one which has strong racial overtones now. Jolson is also famous for using and popularizing Black American musical traditions just as Jazz and Blues.

By 1911 he was a star of the stage, appearing in musicals. In 1918 he starred in the hit musical "Sinbad" which included the song "Swanee" by Irving Berlin. Jolson's recording of "Swanee" was a huge hit and the biggest-selling song of Berlin's career.

Today Jolson is best remembered as the star of "The Jazz Singer" the 1927 film which became the first full-Length film with synchronized dialogue. The film was a sensation and heralded the era of 'the talkies" and the death of silent cinema. Jolson went on to make successful musical films throughout the 1930s. In 1942 his career was also boosted by the film biography about his life "The Al Jolson Story".

During WWII Jolson was known for performing for the troops and continued this during the Korean War. His death from a heart attack after one of his tours is thought to be from exhaustion.

Born: May 26, 1886
Birthplace: Seredžius, Kovno Governorate, Russian Empire

Generation: Lost Generation
Star Sign: Gemini

Died: October 23, 1950 (aged 64)

Historical Events

  • 1912-04-17 1st unofficial gold record (Al Jolson's "Ragging The Baby To Sleep")
  • 1922-02-11 "April Showers" by Al Jolson hits #1
  • 1925-01-07 Musical "Big Boy" with Al Jolson premieres in NYC
  • 1927-10-06 "The Jazz Singer", directed by Alan Crosland, starring Al Jolson and May McAvoy, released, 1st film with a soundtrack (Honorary Academy Award 1928)