US singer. Billed as ‘The World's Greatest Entertainer’, he was extremely popular on the stage for several decades.
Born in Lithuania, Jolson was brought to the USA in 1894 and brought up in Washington, DC, where he made his first appearance on the stage. After a period in the circus and in vaudeville, he made his Broadway debut in 1899; his first recording was made in 1911. He derived his style from the black-face minstrels of Lew Dockstader's minstrel troupe, which he joined in 1909. In this now unacceptable guise he popularized the sentimental ‘Mammy’ song, often delivered on one knee with emotional declamation almost regardless of the melody. Between 1918 and 1921 he was famous for his performances of ‘Avalon’, ‘Swanee’, ‘April Showers’, ‘My Mammy’, ‘California, Here I Come’, ‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goo'bye’, and ‘Rockaby Your Baby With a Dixie Melody’.
He featured in the first full-length talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer, in 1927 (though not a jazz singer by any definition), and can be heard on the sound tracks of two biographical films, The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949).