Al Jolson (Asa Yoelson)

Al Jolson

Al Jolson

Legendary singer, actor, entertainer. Al Jolson was one of the greatest entertainers of the first half of the 20th century, referred to as the World’s Greatest Entertainer in his time. A singer and dancer of boundless energy and expressive face, Jolson’s greatest claim to fame was starring in the first talking motion picture, “The Jazz Singer,” in 1927, where he uttered the immortal lines, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in Srednike, Lithuania, the youngest son of four children by Naomi and Cantor Moses Yoelson. Facing religious oppression, The Yoelsons moved to Washington D.C., where Asa began singing on street corners and running with a tough crowd. While his father want him to follow in his religious footsteps, Jolson turned to stage like his brother Harry, who worked in New York. The two formed an act with a friend that became Jolson, Palmer and Jolson. Al went off on his own and formed his blackface routine which became immensely popular. In the 1920s, Jolson starred on Broadway in shows such as “Bombo,” which introduced the song, “My Mammy.” Jolson would later close “The Jazz Singer” with that immortal tune. Jolson went on to star on radio and in films such as “Mammy,” “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum,” and “The Singing Fool,” which introduced the song, “Sonny Boy.” Other famous Jolson tunes include “Ma Blushin’ Rosie,” “Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye,” “April Showers,” “Swanee” and “California Here I Come.” Jolson married four times, including to Ziegfield girl Ruby Keeler. In the 1930s, despite film and radio fame, his career began to slide. It revived in 1946 when Columbia Pictures made the standard-setting biopic, “The Jolson Story,” which featured Jolson-sung tunes. That and a following film, “Jolson Sings Again,” introduced Jolson to a whole new set of fans. He performed for the USO during World War II and the Korean War. Jolson died in San Francisco playing cards not long after returning from Korea. Today, the International Al Jolson Society is still strong and holds annual conventions.

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Born

  • May, 26, 1886
  • Seredžius, Russian Empire

Died

  • October, 23, 1950
  • San Francisco, California

Cause of Death

  • massive heart attack

Cemetery

  • Hillside Memorial Park
  • Culver City, California

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