Al Jolson (May 26, 1886 – October 23, 1950) was an American singer, comedian, and actor. In his heyday, he was dubbed "The World's Greatest Entertainer."
His performing style was brash and extroverted, and he popularized a large number of songs that benefited from his "shamelessly sentimental, melodramatic approach." Numerous well-known singers were influenced by his music, including Bing Crosby Judy Garland, rock and country entertainer Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bob Dylan, who once referred to him as "somebody whose life I can feel." Broadway critic Gilbert Seldes compared him to "the Greek God Pan," claiming that Jolson represented "the concentration of our national health and gaiety."
In the 1930s, 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 in the first (full length) talking movie, The Jazz Singer in 1927, he later starred in a series of successful musical films throughout the 1930s. After a period of inactivity, his stardom returned with the 1946 Oscar-winning biographical film, The Jolson Story. Larry Parks played Jolson with the songs dubbed in with Jolson’s real voice. A sequel, Jolson Sings Again, was released in 1949, and was nominated for three Oscars. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jolson became the first star to entertain troops overseas during World War II, and again in 1950 became the first star to perform for G.I.s in Korea, doing 42 shows in 16 days. He died just weeks after returning to the U.S., partly due to the physical exertion of performing. Defense Secretary George Marshall afterward awarded the Medal of Merit to Jolson's family.
According to the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, "Jolson was to jazz, blues, and ragtime what Elvis Presley was to rock 'n' roll." Being the first popular singer to make a spectacular "event" out of singing a song, he became a “rock star” before the dawn of rock music. His specialty was building stage runways extending out into the audience. He would run up and down the runway and across the stage, "teasing, cajoling, and thrilling the audience", often stopping to sing to individual members, all the while the "perspiration would be pouring from his face, and the entire audience would get caught up in the ecstasy of his performance". According to music historian Larry Stempel, "No one had heard anything quite like it before on Broadway." Author Stephen Banfield agrees, writing that Jolson's style was "arguably the single most important factor in defining the modern musical…"
He enjoyed performing in blackface makeup—a theatrical convention since the mid-19th century. With his unique and dynamic style of singing black music, like jazz and blues, he was later credited with single-handedly introducing African-American music to white audiences. As early as 1911 he became known for fighting against anti-black discrimination on Broadway. Jolson's well-known theatrics and his promotion of equality on Broadway helped pave the way for many black performers, playwrights, and songwriters, including Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Ethel Waters.
In 1906, while living in San Francisco, Jolson met dancer Henrietta Keller, and the two engaged in a year-long relationship before marrying in September 1907. In 1918, however, Henrietta—tired of what she reputedly considered his womanizing and refusal to come home after shows—filed for divorce. In 1920, Jolson began a relationship with Broadway actress Alma Osbourne (known professionally as Ethel Delmar); the two were married in August 1922.:256 Alma divorced Jolson in 1928.
In the summer of 1928, Jolson met tap dancer, and later successful actress, Ruby Keeler at Texas Guinan's night club and was dazzled by her on sight; at the club, the two danced together. Three weeks later, Jolson saw a production of George M. Cohan's Rise of Rosie O'Reilly, and noticed she was in the show's cast. Now knowing she was going about her Broadway career, Jolson attended another one of her shows, Show Girl, and rose from the audience and engaged in her duet of "Liza". After this moment, the show's producer, Florenz Ziegfeld, asked Jolson to join the cast and continue to sing duets with Keeler. Jolson accepted Ziegfeld's offer and during their tour with Ziegfeld, the two started dating and were married on September 21, 1928. In 1935, Al and Ruby adopted a son, whom they named "Al Jolson Jr." In 1939, however—despite a marriage that was considered to be more successful than his previous ones—Keeler left Jolson, and later married John Homer Lowe, with whom she would have four children and remain married until his death in 1969.:223-259
In 1944, while giving a show at a military hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Jolson met a young X-ray technologist, Erle Galbraith. Jolson became fascinated by her and—over a year after meeting—was able to track her down and hired her as an actress while he served as a producer at Columbia Pictures. After Jolson, whose health was still scarred from his previous battle with malaria, was hospitalized in the winter of 1945, Erle visited him and the two quickly began a relationship. They were married on March 22, 1945. During their marriage, the Jolsons adopted two children, Asa Jr. (born 1948) and Alicia (born 1949), and remained married until his death in 1950.:293-298
After a year and a half of marriage, his new wife had actually never seen him perform in front of an audience, and the first occasion came unplanned. As told by actor comedian Alan King, it happened during a dinner by the New York Friars' Club at the Waldorf Astoria in 1946, honoring the career of Sophie Tucker. Jolson and his wife were in the audience along with a thousand others, and George Jessel was emcee. He asked Al, privately, to perform at least one song. Jolson replied, "No, I just want to sit here." Then later, without warning, during the middle of the show, Jessel says, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the easiest introduction I ever had to make. The world's greatest entertainer, Al Jolson." King recalls what happened next:
"The place is going wild. Jolson gets up, takes a bow, sits down. . . people start banging with their feet, and he gets up, takes another bow, sits down again. It's chaos, and slowly, he seems to relent. He walks up onto the stage . . . kids around with Sophie and gets a few laughs, but the people are yelling, 'Sing! Sing! Sing!' . . . Then he says, 'I'd like to introduce you to my bride,' and this lovely young thing gets up and takes a bow. The audience doesn't care about the bride, they don't even care about Sophie Tucker. 'Sing! Sing! Sing!' they're screaming again. My wife has never seen me entertain, Jolson says, and looks over toward Lester Lanin, the orchestra leader: 'Maestro, Is it True What They Say About Dixie?'"
Closeness with his brother Harry
Despite their close relationship growing up, Harry did show some disdain for Al's success over the years. Even during their time with Jack Palmer, Al was rising in popularity while Harry was fading. After separating from Al and Jack, Harry's career in show business, however, sank greatly. On one occasion—which was another factor in his on-off relationship with Al—Harry offered to be Al's agent, but Al rejected the offer, worried about the pressure that he would have faced from his producers for hiring his brother as his agent. Shortly after Harry's wife Lillian died in 1948, Harry and Al became close once again.:318-324
Death and commemoration
The dust and dirt of the Korean front, from where he had returned a few weeks earlier, had settled in his right lung and he was close to exhaustion. While playing cards in his suite at the St. Francis Hotel at 335 Powell Street in San Francisco, Jolson collapsed and died of a massive heart attack on October 23, 1950. His last words were said to be "Boys, I'm going."  He was 64.
After his wife received the news of his death by phone, she went into shock, and required family members to stay with her. At the funeral, police estimated upwards of 20,000 people showed up, despite threatened rain. It became one of the biggest funerals in show business history.:300 Celebrities paid tribute: Bob Hope, speaking from Korea via short wave radio, said the world had lost "not only a great entertainer, but also a great citizen." Larry Parks said that the world had "lost not only its greatest entertainer, but a great American as well. He was a casualty of the [Korean] war." Scripps-Howard newspapers drew a pair of white gloves on a black background. The caption read, "The Song Is Ended.":300
Newspaper columnist and radio reporter Walter Winchell said,
"He was the first to entertain troops in World War Two, contracted malaria and lost a lung. Then in his upper sixties he was again the first to offer his singing gifts for bringing solace to the wounded and weary in Korea. "Today we know the exertion of his journey to Korea took a greater toll of his strength than perhaps even he realized. But he considered it his duty as an American to be there, and that was all that mattered to him. Jolson died in a San Francisco hotel. Yet he was as much a battle casualty as any American soldier who has fallen on the rocky slopes of Korea … A star for more than 40 years, he earned his most glorious star rating at the end—a gold star."
Friend George Jessel said during part of his eulogy,
"The history of the world does not say enough about how important the song and the singer have been. But history must record the name Jolson, who in the twilight of his life sang his heart out in a foreign land, to the wounded and to the valiant. I am proud to have basked in the sunlight of his greatness, to have been part of his time." 
He was interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. According to Cemetery Guide, Jolson’s widow purchased a plot at Hillside and commissioned his mausoleum to be designed by well-known black architect Paul Williams. The six-pillar marble structure is topped by a dome, next to a three-quarter-size bronze statue of Jolson, eternally resting on one knee, arms outstretched, apparently ready to break into another verse of “Mammy”. The inside of the dome features a huge mosaic of Moses holding the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, and identifies Jolson as “The Sweet Singer of Israel” and “The Man Raised Up High.”
On the day he died, Broadway dimmed its lights in Jolson's honor, and radio stations all over the world were paying tributes. Soon after his death, the BBC presented a special program entitled Jolson Sings On. His death unleashed tributes from all over the world, including a number of eulogies from friends, including George Jessel, Walter Winchell, and Eddie Cantor. He contributed millions to Jewish and other charities in his will.
In October, 2008, a new documentary film, Al Jolson and The Jazz Singer, premiered at the 50th Lübeck Nordic Film Days, Lübeck, Germany, and won 1st Prize at an annual film competition in Kiel a few weeks later. In November, 2007, a similar documentary, A Look at Al Jolson, was winner at the same festival. Jolson's music remains very popular today both in America and abroad with numerous CDs in print.
Jolson has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:
6622 Hollywood Blvd. for his contribution to motion pictures
1716 Vine St. for his mark on the recording industry
6750 Hollywood Blvd. for his achievements in radio
In 2000, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
Forty-four years after Jolson's death, the United States Postal Service honored him by issuing a postage stamp. The 29-cent stamp was unveiled by Erle Jolson Krasna, Jolson's fourth wife, at a ceremony in New York City's Lincoln Center on September 1, 1994. This stamp was one of a series honoring popular American singers, which included Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Ethel Merman, and Ethel Waters. And in 2006, Jolson had a street in New York named after him with the help of the Al Jolson Society.
1.^ Stars over Broadway. PBS.org.
2.^ Ruhlmann, William (1950-10-23). "All Music Guide entry". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
3.^ Gilliland, John. Pop Chronicles the 40's: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40's. ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854., cassette 3, side B.
4.^ Dix, Andrew and Taylor, Jonathan. Figures of Heresy, Sussex Academic Press (2006), p. 176; quoted from Dylan's book, Biograph (1985).
5.^ Stempel, Larry. Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater, W.W. Norton (2010) p. 152.
6.^ Bainbridg, Beryl. Front Row: Evenings at the Theatre, Continuum International Publishing (2005), p. 109
7.^ Freedland, Michael. Al Jolson (1972)
8.^ Oberfirst, Robert, Al Jolson, You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet, (1980) Barnes & Co., London
9.^ Kenrick, John. "Al Jolson: A Biography" Musicals101.com. 2003.
10.^ Zolotow, Maurice. "Ageless Al." Reader's Digest. January, 1949.
11.^ Goldman, Herbert G., Jolson -– the Legend Comes to Life, (1988) Oxford Univ. Press
12.^ "Benefit Performance: 'Bombo' to Be Given at Century in Aid of Jewish War Sufferers" New York Times, March 10, 1922
13.^ "AL JOLSON WELCOMED BACK.; He Returns to the Winter Garden in "Bombo," With New Jokes." New York Times, May 15, 1923
14.^ Rowland-Warne, L. (2000-06-01). "Eyewitness: Costume". DK CHILDREN. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
15.^ Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Oxford University Press. 1993.
16.^ Alexander, Michael. Jazz Age Jews, Princeton University Press (2003)
17.^ Norwood, Stephen Harlan, and Pollack, Eunice G. Encyclopedia of American Jewish History, ABC-CLIO, Inc. (2008)
18.^ Rogin, Michael. Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot, Univ. of California Press (1996) p. 197
19.^ "African American Registry". Aaregistry.com. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
20.^ Ciolino, Joseph, "Al Jolson Wasn’t Racist!"Black Star News, May 22, 2007
21.^ Freedland, Michael. "You couldn't have Al Jolson any other way" Timesonline, February 27, 2009
22.^ Hill, Anthony Duane. "Anderson, Garland (1886–1939)" Black Past.org.
23.^ "Gioia, Ted, New York Times, October 22, 2000". Ferris.edu. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
24.^ Rose, Al. Eubie Blake, Macmillan (1979) pp. 67–68
25.^ Musser, Charles. "Why did Negroes Love Al Jolson and the Jazz Singer?", Film History, Indiana Univ. Press (2011) p. 206
26.^ "Tap Dance Hall of Fame". Atdf.org. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
27.^ Frank, Rusty E. Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories, 1900 – 1955, Da Capo Press (1995)
28.^ "Past/Present/Future for … Brian Conley." What's on Stage, June 23, 2008.
29.^ "Al Jolson Society Official Website". Jolson.org. Archived from the original on 23 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
30.^ Gulla, Bob. Icons of R&B and Soul: An Encyclopedia of the Artists, Greenwood Press (2008) p. 133
31.^ Baraka, Amiri (as LeRoi Jones), Blues People: Negro Music in White America, (1963) Morrow
32.^ Freedland, Michael. Jolson - The Story of Al Jolson (1972, 2007)
33.^ Eyman, Scott (1997). The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926-1930. Simon and Schuster. p. 98. ISBN 0-684-81162-6.
34.^ Shepherd, John. Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Continuum International Publishing Group (2003)
35.^ Interview with George Jessel, circa 1980, video—2 minutes.
36.^ Hall, Mourdant. New York Times review of The Jazz Singer, October 7, 1927 
37.^ Epstein, Helen. Joe Papp: An American Life, Da Capo Press (1996) pp. 28–29
38.^ Eyman, Scott. The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926 – 1930, Simon and Schuster (1997)
39.^ Berg, A. Scott. Goldwyn: A Biography, Alfred A. Knopf (1998)
40.^ "This Is Work, Not Play." Newsweek. June 28, 1999
41.^ Mast, Gerald, and Kawin, Bruce F. A Short History of the Movies, (2006) Pearson Education, Inc.
42.^ Williams, Linda. Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Top to O. J. Simpson, Princeton University Press (2002)
43.^ Carringer, Robert. L. The Jazz Singer (1979) University of Wisconsin Press
44.^ UCLA Film and Television Archive Newsletter April/May 2002.
45.^ Kovan, Florice Whyte. Some Notes on Ben Hecht's Civil Rights Work, the Klan and Related Projects BenHechtBooks.net.
46.^ Hall, Mourdaunt. New York Times. February 9, 1933. p. 15.
47.^ Gilliatt, Penelope. New Yorker. June 23, 1973.
48.^ Fisher, James. Al Jolson: A Bio-bibliography (1994)
49.^ Abel, Variety. March 6, 1934.
50.^ "At the University", Harvard Crimson, May 21, 1934.
51.^ Calloway, Cab. Of Minnie the Moocher and Me, Thomas Y. Crowell Company (1976)
52.^ Nugent, Frank S., New York Times, May 6, 1939 p. 21
53.^ Abel. Variety. May 10, 1939, p. 14
54.^ "The Jolson Story" review, Liberty, October 19, 1946
55.^ "A Tribute by Larry Parks" Jolsonville
56.^ Variety, September 18, 1946, p. 16
57.^ Gabbard, Krin. Jammin' at the Margins, (1996) University of Chicago Press
58.^ Custen, George. Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History, (1992) Rutgers University Press
59.^ Abramson, Martin, The Real Story of Al Jolson. 1950.
60.^ Woolf, S.J. "Army Minstrel." New York Times. September 27, 1942.
61.^ Morehouse, Ward. Hartford Courant, September 20, 1942 6
2.^ "Broadcast Yourself". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
63.^ Cosmopolitan Magazine, January 1951.
64.^ Dutton, John. The Forgotten Punch in the Army's Fist: Korea 1950–1953, Ken Anderson, (2003), p. 98
65.^ Spurr, Russell. Enter the Dragon: China's Undeclared War Against the U.S. in Korea, 1950-51, Newmarket Press, N.Y. (1998) p. 281
66.^ Cooke, Alistair. "Al Jolson dies on crest of a wave." The Guardian (UK). October 25, 1950.
67.^ Livingstone, Mary. Jack Benny, Doubleday (1978) pp. 184–185
68.^ "Jolson to Return to Screen at R.K.O." New York Times, October 11, 1950
69.^ Kusinitz, Kevin. "Celebrity Endorsements." The Daily Standard, May 23, 2008. 7
0.^ King, Alan. Name Dropping, Simon and Schuster (1997)
71.^ Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here - More Locations of America's Pop Culture Landmarks by Chris Epting, p. 187
72.^ Jolson in Korea, Video, 9 min
73.^ Winchell, Walter. A Song for Al Jolson. jolsonville.com. October, 1950
74.^ Jessel, George (1950-10-26). "The Majesty of Jolie". Archived from the original on 2008-10-27.
75.^ "Al Jolson Tribute site". Jolsonville.com. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
76.^ Brody, Seymour (1996). "Al Jolson". Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism. Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
77.^ Al Jolson and The Jazz Singer wins 1st Prize November 15, 2008
78.^ A Look at Al Jolson, winner at German film festival November, 2007
79.^ "Al Jolson: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2008-10-27.
80.^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
81.^ Crowther, Bruce, and Pinfold, Mike. Singing Jazz: The Singers and Their Styles, Hal Leonard Corp. (1997)
82.^ Knight, Arthur. Disintegrating the Musical: Black Performance and American Musical film, Duke Univ. Press (2002)
83.^ Bergreen, Laurence. As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin, Da Capo Press (1996)
84.^ Whitfield, Stephen J., In Search of American Jewish Culture, Brandeis Univ. Press (2001)
85.^ Giddins, Gary. Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, Back Bay (2002)
86.^ Bennett, Tony and Friedwald, Will. The Good Life, Simon and Schuster (1998)
87.^ Wild, David. He Is ... I say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond, Da Capo Press (2008)
88.^ Pomerance, Murray. Enfant Terrible: Jerry Lewis in American Film, New York University Press (2002)
89.^ Fisher, Eddie. Been There, Done That: An Autobiography, Macmillan (2000)
90.^ Billboard, April 14, 1951, p. 25
91.^ Evanier, David. Roman Candle: The Life of Bobby Darin, Rodale (2004)
92.^ Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast, Scribner (1964)
93.^ Barron, Stephanie, and Bernstein, Sheri. Reading California Art, Image, and Identity, Univ. of California Press (2001)
94.^ Studwell, William E. and Schueneman, Bruce R., State Songs of the United States: An Annotated Anthology, Haworth Press (1977)
95.^ Cesari, Armando. Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy, Baskerville Publishers (2004), p. 80
96.^ Rolling Stone Magazine, Interviews, October 19, 2006
97.^ Giddins, Gary. Visions of Jazz: The First Century, Oxford Univ. Press (1998) p. 17
98.^ Rolling Stone Magazine, Interviews, October 30, 2003
99.^ Rolling Stone Magazine Interviews, April 11, 1985 100.^ Giddins, Gary. Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation, Da Capo (2000), pp. 148–49