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Classicsonline Home » Artists » » Jolson, Al

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Al Jolson (1886 - 1950)


Al Jolson was born in Lithuania, although his exact birth date is uncertain. His family immigrated to the United States in 1895 and lived in impoverished circumstances in Washington, D.C. where his father was a cantor. Asa ran away as a teenager to join his brother, who had changed his name to Harry Jolson, and was soon working in vaudeville. In 1909 Al Jolson appeared for the first time in black face, singing “Mammy” to great applause.

His first Broadway success was in the show La Belle Paree (1911) where he began as a bit player and became the star. He referred to himself as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” and became the theater’s first “super star.” His impromptu style and rapport with audiences was unquestionable and even though his ego irritated others, his influence has been acknowledged throughout the decades by scores of entertainers. His long and successful career as a recording artist and in theater, films, and radio lasted until 1941 when he went into semi-retirement.

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