Al Jolson

FTLComm - Tisdale - Monday, May 3, 2004
Born in Lithuania, his father a Rabbi and he and is brother trained to sing and perform as children. He was on the road playing in theatres as a teenager.
Al Jolson was the first superstar, he was a broadway perform, sold hit records as the recording industry was beginning, was the star in the first talking movie and enjoyed huge success on live network radio.
His early act involved painting his face black and doing a African American accent. Though offensive today it was in the 1920s and 30s long before racial awareness. The stylised burnt cork make-up was in some ways a strange way of recognising the rich culture of black America at a time when racial segregation was the norm.
In my first year of collage I performed in a University music review and two others and I wore burnt cork and tuxes to play the part of an American theatrical tradition. In 1962 it was bewildering but I wanted the part and the burnt cork was required.
Jolson's personal life was far less than successful. Four failed marriages and a good deal of carrying on. Al Jolson was definitely not a saint, but the guy sure could sing. The movie made of his life used his own voice simply because his delivery was simply the best.
Those songs of his were written by some of the greatest composers and remain the standard by which a great song is judged.
Take a moment and check out the references.

Timothy W. Shire

Kenrick, John, Al Jolson: A Biography, 2003, web site
Al Jolson, the first superstar


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