Al Jolson (1886 - 1950)

A photo of Al Jolson
Al Jolson
1886 - 1950
updated February 06, 2019
Al Jolson was born on May 26, 1886. He died on October 23, 1950 in California at age 64.

Al Jolson was a Lithuanian-born U.S. singer, songwriter and actor who performed in vaudeville and minstrel shows and starred in The Jazz Singer.
Al Jolson was born on May 26, 1886, in Srednike, Lithuania. He made his first stage appearance 1899 in Washington, D.C., performing in vaudeville before joining a minstrel show in 1909. In New York City, he was featured in musicals and known for his high-energy act. In 1927, Jolson starred in The Jazz Singer, the first feature film with synchronized speech. He died in California in 1950.
Early Life
Al Jolson was born Asa Yoelson on May 26, 1886, in Lithuania. His family immigrated to the United States when he was 7 years old, and Jolson and his three older siblings were raised in Washington, D.C. At a young age, Jolson began singing and dancing on the streets for money. Frustrated by his cantankerous relationship with his father, a conservative Rabbi, Al and his brother, Harry, changed their last name to "Jolson" and moved to New York City, soon beginning a vaudeville act together. Jolson began performing on stage in 1899 and, a decade later, he joined a minstrel troupe. A few years later, he began performing his own act in San Francisco, California.
Success on Stage
Jolson starred in multiple New York musicals, including Sinbad (1918). The musical included the George Gershwin song "Swanee," which became Jolson's hallmark song. In 1921, he introduced the song "My Mammy" to the public via the show Bombo. Jolson's records sold millions of copies.
(Today doing anything in blackface is considered racist and hostile. So his stage work was stained by controversy, as Jolson frequently wore blackface on stage. His vaudeville act became known for its use of dark facial makeup and white gloves. While critics saw Jolson as a racist egomaniac, others maintained that his fame was well-deserved, thanks to his enthusiastic stage presence. His performances were marked by interaction with the audience, fervent gesturing and vibrating his voice. Jolson was so beloved by audiences that New York City's Imperial Theatre was named after him in 1921.
Film Career
Jolson's most famous performance came in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, the first feature in history to include synchronized speech. The film marked the end of the silent movie age and began Jolson's film career. Though he was middle-aged and not the most talented actor, Jolson's singing made him a magnetic movie star. He went on to appear in films such as The Singing Fool (1928) and Swanee River (1940), and provided the voiceover for a movie based on his life entitled The Jolson Story (1946).
Personal Life and Legacy
Jolson married four times and had three adopted children. He was very supportive of American troops, performing for soldiers in World War II and the Korean War. He died of a heart attack in San Francisco on October 23, 1950. His gravesite in Los Angeles' Hillside Memorial Park features a large monument to his career, a life-sized statue of Jolson genuflecting as if he just finished a performance.
The announcement of his death came over the radio on my and my twin brother's birthday. My older brother and my mother and my twin and I cried.

Al Jolson Biography

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Al Jolson

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Al Jolson died on in California United States

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heart attack

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actor, singer, comedian

Military Service

From an article in The New York Times:

He [Jolson] has been to more Army camps and played to more soldiers than any other entertainer. He has crossed the Atlantic by plane to take song and cheer to the troops in Britain and Northern Ireland. He has flown to the cold wastes of Alaska and the steaming forests of Trinidad. He has called at Dutch‑like Curaçao. Nearly every camp in this country has heard him sing and tell funny stories.[60]

Some of the unusual hardships of performing to active troops were described in an article he wrote for Variety, in 1942:

In order to entertain all the boys... it became necessary for us to give shows in foxholes, gun emplacements, dugouts, to construction groups on military roads; in fact, any place where two or more soldiers were gathered together, it automatically became a Winter Garden for me and I would give a show.

After returning from a tour of overseas bases, the Regimental Hostess at one camp wrote to Jolson,

Allow me to say on behalf of all the soldiers of the 33rd Infantry that you coming here is quite the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to us, and we think you're tops, not only as a performer, but as a person. We unanimously elect you Public Morale Lifter No. 1 of the U.S Army.[64]

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Al Jolson Family Tree

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Al Jolson Obituary

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Al Jolson passed away on October 23, 1950 in California at 64 years of age. He was born on May 26, 1886. We have no information about Al's family or relationships.
Other Records of Al Jolson

1886 - 1950 World Events

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In 1886, in the year that Al Jolson was born, on January 5th, Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson's book the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published. Immediately popular, the paperback book was sold for $1 in the U.S. - almost $25 today. Stevenson's stepson said that he wrote the first draft in under 3 days.

In 1907, when he was 21 years old, radiometric dating, a recently discovered technology that could date rocks, found that the earth was 2.2 billion years old which was dramatically older than previously thought. Later refinements and advancements in science would date the age of the earth at over 4.5 billion years.

In 1928, by the time he was 42 years old, Mickie Mouse was born! He first appeared in Disney's Steamboat Willie, along with Minnie. Although they were in two previous shorts, this was the first to be distributed. Steamboat Willie took advantage of the new technology and was a "talkie" - music was coordinated with the animation. It became the most popular cartoon of its day.

In 1945, when he was 59 years old, on February 19th, US Marines landed on the island of Iwo Jima and the Battle of Iwo Jima began. Lasting 5 weeks, it was some of the bloodiest and fiercest fighting in the Pacific theater during World War II. The occupying Japanese forces were heavily armed and there were 21,000 Japanese soldiers on the island at the beginning of the battle. Only 216 Japanese soldiers were captured afterwards - the rest had been killed in action or committed suicide. 6,800 American soldiers died but the Americans took control of the island.

In 1950, in the year of Al Jolson's passing, on October 2, Charlie Brown appeared in the first Peanuts comic strip - created by Charles Schultz - and he was the only character in that strip. That year, Schultz said that Charlie was 4 years old, but Charlie aged a bit through the years.

Other Biographies

Other Al Jolsons

Al Jolson
Feb 2, 1904 - May 22, 1989
Denver, CO

Other Jolsons

Alfred J Jolson
Jun 18, 1928 - March 1994
Boston, MA
Justine E Jolson
Mar 26, 1902 - May 4, 1990
Fairfield, CT
Vincent R Jolson
Jul 19, 1916 - Jan 9, 1985
Fairview, NC
Masha Jolson
Dec 22, 1903 - December 1972
New York, NY
Ann Jolson
Aug 4, 1920 - Apr 15, 2002
New York, NY
Leo Jolson
Jun 30, 1920 - Dec 5, 2010
Brooklyn, NY
Betty Jolson
Jun 29, 1902 - June 1984
Oceanside, NY
Kurt I Jolson
Oct 12, 1912 - Feb 3, 2008
Santa Monica, CA
Hazel M Jolson
Sep 17, 1933 - May 23, 1996
Niagara Falls, NY
Ruth R Jolson
May 7, 1923 - Feb 16, 2000
Brooklyn, NY
Rose Jolson
Feb 28, 1896 - May 1976
Bethpage, NY
Lola Jolson
Aug 24, 1891 - January 1982
Brooklyn, NY
Ruth Jolson
Oct 25, 1924 - February 1979
Leon Jolson
May 9, 1913 - Aug 7, 2009
New York, NY
Stanley Jolson
Apr 9, 1908 - July 1980
Maywood, NJ
Elsie Jolson
Nov 5, 1906 - March 1982
Paramus, NJ
Marvin A Jolson
Jun 7, 1922 - Jul 24, 2001
Pikesville, MD
Henry Jolson
Aug 16, 1910 - October 1987
Jackson Heights, NY
Bella Jolson
Jan 16, 1910 - September 1978
New York, New York
Sam Jolson
Apr 29, 1900 - September 1983
Brooklyn, New York

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