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20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Al Jolson

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Album Review

After recording successfully in the 1910s and being the top solo artist of the 1920s (according to chart researcher Joel Whitburn), Al Jolson stopped making records for 12½ years between 1932 and 1945, when he was lured back into the studio by Decca just prior to the comeback he scored due to the film biography The Jolson Story in 1946. He cut 71 sides for Decca up to his death in 1950, many of them re-recordings of his early hits, now sung in a deepened voice over new arrangements. And he had considerable success, nearly topping the charts with "Anniversary Song," composed for the movie, and reportedly enjoying million-sellers with it and two remakes, "April Showers" and "My Mammy." This midline-priced compilation assembles 12 of those late recordings in a disc running just over 32 and a half minutes, hardly a comprehensive collection, but one that hits the highlights of Jolson's late career. In addition to the three titles named above, "Swanee," "California, Here I Come," "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody," "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)," "Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)," and "Toot Toot Tootsie! (Good Bye)" were all major hits of the 1910s and '20s also heard in The Jolson Story; "When You Were Sweet Sixteen" is a vintage song not previously recorded by Jolson, but featured in the film; "Sonny Boy" was a major 1920s hit heard in the sequel, Jolson Sings Again; and "Alexander's Ragtime Band," Irving Berlin's 1911 standard, is an engaging duet with Bing Crosby. All told, that makes for a good selection of some of the songs most closely associated with Jolson, performed with his usual vibrancy and in much better fidelity than the original recordings from the sonically challenged early decades of the 20th century.

Customer Reviews

The American Dream

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. Al Jolson was to jazz, blues, and ragtime what Elvis Presley was to rock 'n' roll. Jolson had first heard African-American music in New Orleans in 1905, and he performed it for the rest of his life. Like Elvis, Jolson gyrated his lower body as he danced. In THE JAZZ SINGER, white viewers saw Jolson moving his hips and waist in ways that they had never seen before. Historian and performer Stephen Hanan has written in TIKKUN that Jolson's "funky rhythm and below-the-waist gyrations (not seen again from any white male till the advent of Elvis) were harbingers of the sexual liberation of the new urban era. Jolson was a rock star before the dawn of rock music." Al Jolson paved the way for African-American performers like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Ethel Waters. It is remarkable that a Jewish mamma's boy from Lithuania could do so much to bridge the cultural gap between black and white America.

Al Jolson

Al Jolson rocks! I'm an oldies but goodies guy, Elvis, The Beatles, you get the picture. Really, give this guy a listen.

The Worlds Best Entertainer

That was Al Jolson title that no one can reclaim and this album explains.


Born: May 26, 1886 in Seredzius, Lithuania

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s, '40s

In addition to releasing a string of successful records between 1912 and 1949, Al Jolson achieved pre-eminent stardom on Broadway, hosted several radio series, and became the first important figure of the sound-era of motion pictures. His performing style was brash and extroverted; he billed himself as "the world's greatest entertainer," and he was known for his slogan, "You ain't heard nothin' yet!" He popularized a large number of songs that benefited from his shamelessly sentimental, melodramatic...
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