When I was just a couple years from becoming a bar mitzvah, I became enamored with the singing of the immortal Al Jolson. I used to tell everyone who'd listen that I watched the first Jolson bio pic "The Jolson Story" twenty-nine times on television. These were the days when "Million Dollar Movie" showed a film two or three times a day. After attending today's 13th annual Jolson festival on Long Island, New York (attended by more than 180 Jolson devotees), I don't think I was the only one.
Also there was a great Jolson sound alike named Tony Babino who did a wonderful Jolson. He regailed us with many a Jolson song.
I'd also like to remind those of you who haven't yet visited the "Immortal Al Jolson" exhibition at the Museum of Family History, to do so. There are nearly thirty web pages to this large online exhibition, which is replete with dozens of photos of Jolson, seventeen video clips and more than forty sound clips from all aspects of Jolson's personal and professional life. There's even a page entitled "The Jewish Side of Jolson" where you can hear Jolson sing "Hatikvah," "Kol Nidre," "Cantor on the Sabbath," and "Israel."
In gathering material for my Jolson exhibition, I first heard Jolson sing the aformentioned Jewish songs. Had I heard Jolson's version of "Kol Nidre" during those immediate years before I became a Bar Mitzvah, I wonder whether my Haftorah reading might have had a Jolson "lilt" to it...
"Cantor on the Sabbath" ("a chazend'l ofn shabbos"), sung in Yiddish by Jolson and mimed by Jolson portrayer Larry Parks, was originally to be part of the first Jolson bio pic "The Jolson Story," but the powers-that-be decided it was too ethnic and cut it from the film. And they say "the rest his history."
The Jolson exhibition can be found at www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/ajolson.htm .
The Jolson society website can be found at http://www.jolson.org/ .