Al Jolson

Al Jolson lived “The American Dream.” Born in Lithuania, Jolson rose through the ranks of vaudeville as a comedian and a blackface “Mammy” singer. By 1920, he had become the biggest star on Broadway, but he is probably best remembered for his film career. He starred in THE JAZZ SINGER (1927), the first talking movie ever made, and his legend was assured in 1946 with the release of the successful biography of his life called THE JOLSON STORY. Jolson was the first openly Jewish man to become an entertainment star in America. His marginal status as a Jew informed his blackface portrayal of Southern blacks. Almost single-handedly, Jolson helped to introduce African-American musical innovations like jazz, ragtime, and the blues to white audiences. The brightest star of the first half of the 20th century, Jolson was eternally grateful for the opportunities America had given him. He tirelessly entertained American troops in World War II and in the Korean War, and he contributed time and money to the March of Dimes and other philanthropic causes. While some of his colleagues in show business complained about his inflated ego, he certainly deserved his moniker: “The World's Greatest Entertainer.”

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