SINGING PAST THE SI­LENCE

Reminisce - - Spotlight -

When The Jol­son Story pre­viewed in Santa Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia, in 1946, Al Jol­son over­heard an el­derly woman re­mark, “What a pity Jol­son never lived to see this.”

The for­mer su­per­star (born Asa Yoel­son in Lithua­nia in 1886) had been off the radar for years. At the peak of his ca­reer, Jol­son was dubbed “the world’s great­est en­ter­tainer,” record­ing 86 hit songs, sell­ing out con­certs and star­ring in the first fea­ture-length talkie, The

Jazz Singer in 1927. Jol­son de­liv­ered his sen­ti­men­tal tunes in a melo­dra­matic, fullthroated man­ner to ador­ing au­di­ences. He was a rock star be­fore rock mu­sic ex­isted.

Jol­son some­times per­formed in black­face, then com­mon,

Al Jol­son in­flu­enced gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­can male singers from Bing Crosby to Jerry Lee Lewis.

now de­rided. Less known, he also cru­saded for civil rights, be­friend­ing many AfricanAmer­i­cans and paving the way for such leg­ends as Louis Arm­strong, Duke Elling­ton and Ethel Waters. Jol­son al­most sin­gle-hand­edly in­tro­duced many African-Amer­i­can mu­si­cal in­no­va­tions, such as jazz, blues and rag­time, to a white au­di­ence.

The Jol­son Story

starred Larry Parks, who lip-synced Jol­son’s orig­i­nal record­ings. The movie earned two Os­cars (Best Score and Best Sound). Jol­son went on to record five more hit sin­gles af­ter the movie’s suc­cess.

RAN­DAL C. HILL writes about mu­sic from his home in Ban­don, OR.

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