Definitions

Jolson

Jolson

[johl-suhn]
Jolson, Al, 1888-1950, American entertainer, whose original name was Asa Yoelson, b. Russia. He emigrated to the United States c.1895. The son of a rabbi, Jolson first planned to become a cantor but soon turned to the stage. After his New York City debut in 1899, he worked in circuses, in minstrel shows, and in vaudeville; in 1909 in San Francisco he first sang "Mammy" in black face, and his style brought him fame and many imitators. The first of his many Broadway appearances was in La Belle Paree (1911); his film work began with The Jazz Singer (1927), the first major film with sound and a landmark in the history of motion pictures. After 1932 he had his own radio show. Among the songs he made famous were "April Showers," "Swanee," "Sonny-Boy," and "Mammy."

See H. Jolson, Mistah Jolson (1951); M. Freedland, Jolson (1972).

orig. Asa Yoelson

(born May 26, 1886, Srednike, Russia—died Oct. 23, 1950, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.) Russian-born U.S. singer, songwriter, and blackface comedian. Jolson's family arrived in the U.S. in 1893 and settled in Washington, D.C., where Jolson made his first stage appearance in 1899, performing in vaudeville before joining a minstrel troupe (see minstrel show) in 1909. In New York City he was featured in musicals such as La Belle Paree (1911), Honeymoon Express (1913), and Big Boy (1925). In Sinbad (1918) he transformed the unsuccessful George Gershwin song “Swanee” into his trademark number. In Bombo (1921) he introduced “My Mammy,” “Toot, Toot, Tootsie,” and “California, Here I Come.” In 1927 he starred in The Jazz Singer, the first feature film with synchronized speech as well as music and sound effects. His later films include The Singing Fool (1928), Mammy (1930), and Swanee River (1940).

Learn more about Jolson, Al with a free trial on Britannica.com.

orig. Asa Yoelson

(born May 26, 1886, Srednike, Russia—died Oct. 23, 1950, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.) Russian-born U.S. singer, songwriter, and blackface comedian. Jolson's family arrived in the U.S. in 1893 and settled in Washington, D.C., where Jolson made his first stage appearance in 1899, performing in vaudeville before joining a minstrel troupe (see minstrel show) in 1909. In New York City he was featured in musicals such as La Belle Paree (1911), Honeymoon Express (1913), and Big Boy (1925). In Sinbad (1918) he transformed the unsuccessful George Gershwin song “Swanee” into his trademark number. In Bombo (1921) he introduced “My Mammy,” “Toot, Toot, Tootsie,” and “California, Here I Come.” In 1927 he starred in The Jazz Singer, the first feature film with synchronized speech as well as music and sound effects. His later films include The Singing Fool (1928), Mammy (1930), and Swanee River (1940).

Learn more about Jolson, Al with a free trial on Britannica.com.

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