Al Jolson was an actor of The Jazz Singer, and
The Singing Fool fame, and singer of Swanee,
Baby Face, Sonny Boy, Mammy, and Toot, Toot,
Tootsie, Goodbye fame.
He is the entertainer who ushered in the era of
sound films when he famously uttered the words, "Wait
a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet!"
in The Jazz Singer, one of the first "talkies"
to enjoy wide commercial success.
Billed as "The World's Greatest Entertainer,"
he was one of the highest paid performers
during the early years of Hollywood.
Biographical fast facts
Full or original name at birth: Asa Yoelson
Date and place of birth: May 28 (O.S.), June 9 (N.S.), 1886,
Serednik or Srednik (now Seredzius), Lithuania *
Date, time, place and cause of death: October 23, 1950,
at 10:35 p.m., room 1220 of the St. Francis hotel,
San Francisco, California, U.S.A. (Heart attack)
Spouse: Henrietta Keller (m. September 20, 1907 -
July 8, 1920**) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Oakland, California, U.S.A.
Spouse: Ethel Delmar (m. July 22, 1922 - October 1926) (divorced)
NOTE: Most sources erroneously report "August 18, 1922" as
the date of his second marriage. This is due to the
fact he kept his nuptials secret from the press.
August 17th, several reporters got wind of his marriage,
and began investigating. With very limited tangible
information, the news broke the next day, leading to
the foundation of the incorrect marriage date.
Spouse: Ruby Keeler (m. September 21, 1928 -
December 27, 1940**) (divorced)
Marriage took place at 3:30 p.m., at the home of
Judge George A. Slater, in Port Chester, Westchester
County, New York, U.S.A.
Spouse: Erle Chennault Galbraith (m. March 24, 1945 -
October 23, 1950) (his death) Marriage took place in Quartzsite, Arizona, U.S.A.***
Adopted son with wife Ruby Keeler: Al Jolson, Jr. (later changed his name to
Albert Peter Lowe; b. March 1935)
Adopted son with Erle: Asa Albert Jolson, Jr.
Adopted daughter with Erle: Alicia Jolson
Father: Moshe Reuben Yoelson (a Rabbi)
(b. Moshe Reuben Hesselson, 1857, Kurland, Latvia -
d. December 23, 1945, Washington, D.C.)
Mother: Naomi Etta Cantor (b. 1860 - died in childbirth, February 6, 1895,
at 208 4 1/2 Street SW, Washington, D.C.)
Burial site: Hillside Memorial Park (a.k.a. Hillside Cemetery),
Culver City, California, U.S.A.
Note that in September 1951, he was moved from his initial
burial place at the Beth Olam Cemetery, 900 N. Gower Street,
Hollywood, California, to his final resting place at Hillside
Memorial Park. Jolson's incredibly elaborate burial site
features a statue of the entertainer, on one knee, arms
outstretched, in his famous "Mammy pose."
Error corrections or clarifications
* Note that some early editions of
Who's Who in America erroneously report Jolson was
born in "Washington, D.C." where he was, in
fact, raised, not born. His date of birth
has been the subject of debate for decades.
It was long thought there were no birth records
for Al Jolson, so verifying a date was
considered impossible. Both birth and military
records have recently been discovered, and
confirm his birth took place in May of 1886.
March 23, March 26, May 23, and May 26 have
all erroneously been reported as his birth
date. Those newly uncovered birth records show
May 28, 1886 (O.S.) as his date of birth.
That May 28th date is Old Style (O.S.),
since the Julian calendar was still in
use locally. This date is June 9 (N.S.), 1886,
on the New Style (N.S.) or Gregorian calendar.
*** Note that a couple of sources mistakenly
report they married at "Quartzite," Arizona. The
name of the town in which they exchanged their
vows is spelled Quartzsite, Arizona.
Biography - Credits - Residences of Al Jolson
Al Jolson was one of entertainment's earliest
superstars, before that term even existed. By 1915,
he was being billed as "America's Greatest Entertainer."
Within a decade, his billing had become "The World's
Greatest Entertainer." Entertainment historians recall
Jolson as one of the greatest stars of the first
half of the 20th century. With his inflated ego,
Al would have been the first to concur with that
Notable firsts in Jolson's career include the first
recording (Sonny Boy) to sell more than a million
copies. He was the first musical artist to sell a
total of over 10 million copies of his various recordings.
And, of course, he starred in the first major motion
picture with sound, a true landmark in the history of
film. Jolson was also the first male entertainment star
in America who readily acknowledged he was Jewish.
Al Jolson began his entertainment career working in
circuses, burlesque, and finally, vaudeville. He quickly
rose through the ranks of vaudeville to become a headliner.
His extraordinary stage presence, exuberant gestures,
blackface singing and comedy, sentimental song delivery,
and his habit of directly addressing his audience, were
some of the key elements that made him so popular with
audiences. Another of his trademarks was his use of
whistling in his routine. He sometimes used loud melodic
whistle trills, approximating a frenetic birdcall, to
punctuate songs and gags. In the early days, he had
actually whistled songs on stage until his voice
Al worked tirelessly to entertain American troops
during World War II and the Korean War, and gave
of his time and money to the March of Dimes and
other worthy philanthropic causes. Some of his
colleagues in show business described Al as one of
the most self-centered men on earth. Many openly
complained about his colossal ego, but none could
deny his talent or the remarkable personal rapport
he had with his audiences.
Selected stage credits:
Following his rise to the top of vaudeville, he
conquered Broadway. His stage credits include
La Belle Paree (1911), Vera Violetta (1911),
The Whirl of Society (1912), The Honeymoon
Express (1913), Dancing Around (1914),
Robinson Crusoe, Jr. (1916), Sinbad (1918),
Bombo (1921), Big Boy (1925), The Wonder
Bar (1931), and Hold on to Your Hats (1940).
Selected film credits:
In addition to The Jazz Singer (1927), and The
Singing Fool (1928), Jolson's other films include
A Plantation Act (1926), Say It with Songs (1929),
Mammy (1930), Big Boy (1930), Hallelujah I'm a Bum
(1933), Wonder Bar (1934), Go Into Your Dance (1935),
The Singing Kid (1936), Rose of Washington Square (1939),
Hollywood Cavalcade (1939), Swanee River (1939), and
Rhapsody in Blue (1945). Larry Parks portrayed Al in
The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949),
but it was Jolson himself who provided the singing voice
for Larry Parks.
Selected singing credits:
It was Al Jolson who helped introduce ragtime,
jazz, and the blues to white audiences. But his
own biggest hits tended to be sentimental favorites
that sometimes left his audiences in tears. A
small sampling of Al's numerous songs includes
Sonny Boy, Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye,
Baby Face, Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie
Melody, April Showers, When the Red, Red
Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along, Rum Tum Tiddle,
Anniversary Song, California, Here I Come,
Avalon, Swanee, and My Mammy.
Selected radio credits:
Jolson starred in his first radio variety series
Presenting Al Jolson (1932-33) on NBC. Other radio
credits include NBC Radio's Kraft Music Hall (1933-34 and
1947-49), The Shell Chateau Hour also on NBC (1935-36),
Cafe Trocadero on CBS (1936-39), and Al Jolson on CBS
(1942-43). He also made guest appearances on numerous radio
programs such as Amos 'n' Andy, Lux Radio Theatre,
The Radio Hall of Fame, The Jack Benny Show,
The Bob Hope Show, The Jimmy Durante Show,
The Chase & Sanborn Hour, The Rudy Vallee Show,
The Kate Smith Show, The Ben Bernie Show,
Maxwell House Coffee Time, Hollywood Hotel,
Pabst Blue Ribbon Show, and Leave It To Joan.
Residences of Al Jolson:
Note that these residences may no longer exist, and it's
possible the addresses have changed over the years.
This is not to suggest that Jolson owned each and
every one of these structures. We're only reporting the
fact that he called them home at one point or another in
208 4 1/2 Street SW, Washington, D.C.
482 School Street, Washington, D.C.
St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, Caton Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.
Academy Hotel, 119 East 14th Street, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Sunny Slope Avenue, Oakland, California, U.S.A.
Grant Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.
543 Madison Avenue, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
36 West 59th St., New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Sherry-Netherland Hotel, 781 Fifth Ave., New York City, New York, U.S.A.
The most in-depth of more than three dozen sources
consulted in preparing this profile, was
the 1988 biography, Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life,
by Herbert G. Goldman.
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