“Hello” Al Jolson Born 26 May 1886
Al Jolson (born Asa Yoelson; May 26, 1886 – October 23, 1950) was an American singer, film actor, and comedian. He was born in Lithuania which at the time was part of the Russian Empire, before his parents moved to America when he was five years old. At the peak of his career, he was dubbed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer”.
Numerous well-known singers were influenced by his music, including Bing Crosby,David Bowie, Bob Dylan and others. Dylan once referred to him as “somebody whose life I can feel”.
In the 1930’s, he was America’s most famous and highest-paid entertainer. Between 1911 and 1928, Jolson had nine sell-out Winter Garden shows in a row, more than 80 hit records, and 16 national and international tours. Although he’s best remembered today as the star of the first ‘talking picture’, The Jazz Singer (1927), he later starred in a series of successful musical films throughout the 1930’s. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, Jolson became the first star to entertain troops overseas during World War II.
After a period of inactivity, his stardom returned with The Jolson Story (1946). Larry Parks played Jolson, with the singer dubbing for Parks. This was repeated in the sequel, Jolson Sings Again (1949). In 1950 he again became the first star to entertain GI’s on active service in the Korean War, performing 42 shows in 16 days.
He died just weeks after returning to the U.S., partly owing to the physical exertion of performing. Defence Secretary George Marshall subsequently awarded the Medal of Merit to Jolson’s family.
He enjoyed performing in black face makeup and was later credited with introducing African-American music to white audiences. As early as 1911 he became known for fighting against anti-black discrimination on Broadway.