No vaudeville collection would be complete without a commentary on the greatest of all vaudeville and Broadway stars of the 1910s and 1920s, Al Jolson. The University of Arizona collection has a large number if not a complete number of Jolson sheet music including one piece signed by him personally.
Jolson was a vaudeville legend beginning mainly in the early 1910s and continuing through his starring role in the 1927 partly talking picture The Jazz Singer which ushered in the talking picture era. There were a number of reasons for his success, not the least of which was his ability to fill a large hall without using a microphone and with a slightly nasal edge to his powerful voice that made it possible to understand every word he was singing. He had a remarkable ability to project that row so that even people in the cheap seats could understand all that was going on.
Jolson was already making a name for himself in 1908 as a member of Lew Dockstader’s famous minstrel group, performing often in blackface. He was not yet a superstar but slowly was building a following and earning the respect of his colleagues, if not their friendship, for his drive to get to the top did not abate for anything that might stand in his way.
There were Broadway shows too such as Honeymoon Express, Bombo and Big Boy but these were more pretexts for his getting in front of an audience, often in full blackface and white gloves, going down on one knee and singing about Dixie and his Mammy far away. These actions first started in the show Honeymoon Express in 1913 where Jolson’s singing so dazzled the audience that the show completely stopped while he just sang his heart out, much to the consternation of the show’s star, French import Gaby Deslys, who eventually had to quit the show and Jolson took over as the superstar. It was the breakthrough that he needed and his audience now demanded.
Although he caused a sensation in his first movie, Jolson never did warm to the silver screen. His acting was terrible and his performances, if one could call them that, were more theatrical than heartfelt and he seemed to be playing the same character monotonously in subsequent films such as The Singing Fool and My Mammy. In Wonder Bar (1934) he was essentially playing himself and managed to get himself at the center of one of the most racist sequences ever put on film, the amazing Goin’ To Heaven On A Missouri Mule, culminating in a blackfaced Hal Leroy emerging from a giant watermelon and dancing.
Along the way, Jolson, along with Frank Fay, developed a reputation for being one of the largest jackasses in the business. He was petty about others on the bill with him going over well or possibly better than he so he’d get them fired. He couldn’t read or write music but he forced his name onto many songs so he could claim royalties. His justification was that his interpretation of a song constituted writing a part of it and his promoting of a song brought revenues no one else could deliver. It is hard to imagine a performer more universally disliked by his peers but big stars such as George Jessel, Eddie Cantor, and Burns and Allen learned that the way to work with him was to let him speak about himself and his accomplishments for a while and then he would be more human to work with after his enormous ego had been allowed to be front and center for a while. Mickey Rooney was another star who was frequently dealt with in this way, especially from about 1955 on when his influence in the business waned and he was increasingly ignored.
With the advent of crooning Jolson, who had been THE biggest superstar of vaudeville and Broadway, became less suited to the vacuum tubes of radio which preferred to be purred to gently. His marriage to ingenue and herky-jerky tap dancer Ruby Keeler wound down as her career with Warner Brothers kept her in constant demand as a partner for Dick Powell and others while the phone rang less and less often for Jolson who became more of a nostalgia performer, who kept his career afloat with guest shots on radio.
In 1946 with the movie The Jolson Story and its sequel Jolson Sings Again, starring Larry Parks, Jolson experienced a remarkable career revival and all the old songs became new again, generating new/old hits such as Toot Toot Tootsie, California Here I Come and April Showers. Despite health problems, Jolson enjoyed entertaining the troops and up until just before his death he remained an A list entertainer in constant demand so, appropriately enough, he was able to have a big big finish to a remarkable career.
For Al Jolson in a PRE- Jazz Singer talking film see this 1926 blackface biggest hits compendium that includes a version of When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along, which is the earliest record we have on film of Jolson performing.
The University of Arizona holds an original program from the 1930 movie THE SINGING FOOL starring Al Jolson, Betty Bronson and Josephine Dunn and directed by Lloyd Bacon. The four page program advertises: “Al Jolson – the world’s greatest entertainer– in his crowning achievement! Bigger than “The Jazz Singer”- and that was BIG! Athrob with glitter and gayety, pathos and love, adventure and surprises! An unforgettable, sensational production, with the sensational super-star at his thrilling best! Don’t miss it!” It includes him in his traditional blackface with the caption: “MAMMY! Hear Him TALK and SING in THE SINGING FOOL. Jolson says: “If you liked The Jazz Singer, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!. DON’T miss this one, his greatest!”.
The University of Arizona also holds an extensive collection of Al Jolson sheet music including a signed piece of original music by Jolson himself. Here is the collection from earliest to latest:
I LOVE MY STEADY, BUT I’M CRAZY FOR MY ONCE-IN-A-WHILE 1910 – by Irving Hinkley, Allan W. S. MacDuff. Insert photo AL JOLSON. Cover art by Starmer shows girl on couch holding hands and keeping angry suitor hiding around the corner! This is the earliest sheet music we have showing a very young Jolson and the music is published in Boston.
MY SUMURUN GIRL 1912 – Louis A. Hirsch, Al Jolson. Cover photo of AL JOLSON & STELLA MAYHEW. “As introduced in the great Winter Garden success Whirl of Society. Sumurun was a made-up exotic locale. At this point Jolson was becoming a major star but was still on his way up to superstardom with the Shubert organization.
WAITING FOR THE ROBERT E. LEE 1912 – Lewis F. Muir, L. Wolfe Gilbert. Silhouetted figures on levee as the steamboat comes in. Cover art by Andre De Takacs. Insert photo of AL JOLSON. This was one of Jolson’s earliest smash hits and helped to catapult his career into high gear. Music lacks back cover.
MY YELLOW JACKET GIRL 1913 – Jean Schwartz (aka Jeannot Szwarc), Harold Atteridge. From the Winter Garden production The Honeymoon Express. Staged by Ned Weyburn. Insert photo AL JOLSON. This Broadway show was Jolson’s fourth and ran for 156 performances as word of mouth spread about this amazing talent. The audience demanded that the show stop repeatedly and that he sing song after song and the show’s actual star Gaby Deslys had to endure this and just sit on a stool in the background, not something she was used to doing!
GOOD-BYE BOYS 1913 – Andrew B. Sterling, William Jerome, Harry Von Tilzer. Cover AL JOLSON in blackface in The Honeymoon Express. Jolson was so successful with this show that top-billed Gaby Deslys had to leave it entirely and Jolson became the sole main attraction. This was the moment in 1913, then, when a superstar was made.
I LOVE HER OH! OH! OH! 1913 – Joe McCarthy, E. P. Moran, James V. (Jimmie) Monaco. Another AL JOLSON song from The Honeymoon Express. In this show he interpolated You Made Me Love You which became a gigantic hit and during which he went down on one knee with arms extended and this became one of his most enduring and famous gestures.
WHO PAID THE RENT FOR MRS. RIP VAN WINKLE? 1914 – Alfred Bryan, Fred Fishcer. Another smash hit for AL JOLSON from THE HONEYMOON EXPRESS after he had taken over top-billing in the show.
WHEN THE GROWN UP LADIES ACT LIKE BABIES I’VE GOT TO LOVE ‘EM THAT’S ALL 1914 – Joe Young, Edgar Leslie, Maurice Abrahams. “AL JOLSON’s terrific hit”. Published by the composer on Broadway.
THIS IS THE LIFE 1914 – Irving Berlin. AL JOLSON now occupies the entire cover of the sheet music and is ensconced as a major star. This song, forgotten today, was one of his very biggest early hits.
TENNESSEE I HEAR YOU CALLING ME 1914 – Harold A. Robe, Jeff Godfrey. Introduced by AL JOLSON in the New York Winter Garden. Here’s a song introduced by Jolson which became a country music classic.
I’M GOIN’ BACK TO OLD NEBRASKA, GOOD-BYE 1914 – Ray Sherwood, Bert L. Rule. As sung by AL JOLSON at the Winter Garden New York.
I’M GLAD MY WIFE’S IN EUROPE 1914 – ArchIe Gottler, Howard Johnson, Coleman Goetz. Cover of AL JOLSON in the New Winter Garden production DANCING AROUND. It was in this show that Jolson introduced the song listed just below. This is the first show that Jolson received star billing in from the get-go.
SISTER SUSIE’S SEWING SHIRTS FOR SOLDIERS 1914 – R. P. Weston, Hermann E. Darewski. This is the famous AL JOLSON tongue-twister that Jolson did by eliciting audience participation. The song is supposed to get faster and faster as the alliterative phrases and tongue-twisters abound. Jolson would offer audience members ten dollars if they could sing the chorus without error.
EVERYBODY RAG WITH ME 1914 – Gus Kahn, Grace Le Boy. Also from DANCING AROUND. The songs from the show were considered not up to Jolson’s previous show songs so numerous interpolations were made with Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts making a big hit.
DOWN IN BOM-BOMBAY 1915 – Ballard Macdonald, Harry Carroll. This was one of those songs that everyone recorded and Collins and Harlan also had a winning version.
YOU’D NEVER KNOW THAT OLD TOWN OF MINE 1915 – Howard Johnson, Walter Donaldson. By this time the mere photo of AL JOLSON would help to sell music even if this song had been introduced and featured by comedienne Dorothy Meuther.
WHEN I LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND 1915 – Irving Berlin. This deeply emotional song was actually dedicated to Charles Lounsbury, editor of the Yale Book of American Verse, who had died shortly before Berlin composed the song.
JUST TRY TO PICTURE ME BACK HOME IN TENNESSEE 1915 – Walter Donaldson, William Jerome. This was unquestionably one of the biggest AL JOLSON hit songs ever although it is not remembered today. It may have sold more than a million musics.
DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS 1915 – James Brockman, Abe Olman. Aother big AL JOLSON hit song. Leo Feist, the publisher of the music, got the rights to this one from composer and orchestra leader Abe Olman and it was given to Jolson.
WHERE DID ROBINSON CRUSOE GO WITH FRIDAY ON SATURDAY NIGHT 1916 – Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young, George W. Meyer. AL JOLSON stands in blackface with a goat while weird monkeys dart around in the background. Friday was Robinson Crusoe’s manservant in the Daniel Defoe story. Sung at the Winter Garden production of Robinson Crusoe, Jr.
DOWN WHERE THE SWANEE RIVER FLOWS 1916 – Charles McCarron, Charles S. Alberte, Albert Von Tilzer. Cover art by Andre De Takacs. Another hit from the Winter Garden production of Robinson Crusoe, Jr.
YAAKA HULA HICKEY DULA 1916 – E. Ray Goetz, Joe Young, Pete Wendling. Another smash hit from Robinson Crusoe, Jr. This show was another long run for Jolson with 139 performances on Broadway and then he took it on the road often performing 2 or 3 shows a day. This Hawaiian-themed song did very well indeed.
MAMMY’S LITTLE COAL BLACK ROSE 1916 – Raymond Egan, Richard A. Whiting. One of the many mammy songs Jolson would do in blackface singing about racial stereotypes in the deep south.
YOU’RE A DANGEROUS GIRL 1916 – Grant Clarke, Jimmie Monaco. Still another hit from Robinson Crusoe, Jr., produced by Lee and J. J. Shubert.
WHERE THE BLACK-EYED SUSANS GROW 1917- Richard A. Whiting, Dave Radford. Yet another tune from Robinson Crusoe, Jr., this one added in after the show was already running.
SO LONG, MOTHER 1917 – Raymond Egan, Egbert Van Alstyne, Gus Kahn. “Al Jolson’s Mother Song”. This was another one of Jolson’s very biggest early hits. It also constituted one of Jolson’s numerous World War I songs. Although he did nothing to go and support the troops as Elsie Janis or Anna Held did do, but he issued many tough-guy songs about what “we’re” going to do to the Kaiser. This tender song has a soldier comforting his mother before he leaves for war.
AIN’T YOU COMING BACK TO DIXIELAND 1917 – Raymond Egan, Richard A. Whiting. “From the writers of Mammy’s Coal Black Rose.”
THERE’S A LUMP OF SUGAR DOWN IN DIXIE 1918 – Jack Yellen, Alfred Bryan, Albert Gumble. Jolson had many songs of the southland among which this hit. This one got into the Broadway musical Sinbad starring Jolson. This show ran for some 6 months then had a two year tour. It was one of Jolson’s enormous successes on Broadway.
HELLO, CENTRAL, GIVE ME NO MAN’S LAND 1918 – Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young, Jean Schwartz. Another of the World War I songs, referring to the disputed land of the western front between the French and German armies, areas lined with barbed wire and full of mines. This song was featured by AL JOLSON in Sinbad. The show ran for six months at the Winter Garden.
‘N’ EVERYTHING 1918 – Buddy De Sylva, Al Jolson, Gus Kahn. This was one of the biggest hits from Sinbad at the Winter Garden. Jolson frequently had his name added as a composer to a song in order to accrue royalties from the music sales. He felt that his mere acceptance of a song made it a hit– and that was true– and made him somehow a composer through his interpretation of a tune.
CLEOPATRA 1918 – Harry Tierney, Alfred Bryan. Still another tune, less well known, from Sinbad.
I’LL SAY SHE DOES 1918 – Buddy De Sylva, Gus Kahn, Al Jolson. Another big smash from Sinbad, and again Jolson forces his way onto the credits. The show ran for 164 performances and had a simple Arabian Nights plot with basic music by Sigmund Romberg holding the show together. But it was just another vehicle for Jolson who interpolated songs such as this into it throughout its run.
ROCKABYE YOUR BABY WITH A DIXIE MELODY 1918 – Joe Young, Sam M. Lewis, Jean Schwartz. This was perhaps the biggest smash from Sinbad, and became one of Jolson’s most requested and remembered tunes. It even became a hit single for Jerry Lewis soon after his breakup from Dean Martin in 1956. Many have used it as a show-stopper including Judy Garland and even…Aretha Franklin who had a hit with it that nobody recalls! Large format version.
ROCK-A-BYE YOUR BABY WITH A DIXIE MELODY 1918 – Joe Young, Sam M. Lewis, Jean Schwartz. “Featured with great success by AL JOLSON”. One of the legendary Jolson tunes. First issue of the smaller format Jolson sheet musics that started after World War I. Published by Mills Music.
ROCK-A-BYE YOUR BABY WITH A DIXIE MELODY 1918 – Joe Young, Sam M. Lewis, Jean Schwartz. Rights to the sheet music for this mega-hit were bought by the firm of Waterson, Berlin and Snyder and a large quantity of music was issued by them for this tune. The owners were Henry Waterson, Ted Snyder (who founded the publishing company) and the great Irving Berlin.
TELL THAT TO THE MARINES 1918 – Harold Atteridge, Jean Schwartz, Al Jolson. Introduced by AL JOLSON in SINBAD. Has a fierce Jolson taking off his coat to fight in World War I which of course he never did! Nor did he really have a hand in writing this song. Cover art by Al Barbelle.
I’LL SAY SHE DOES 1918 – Brad De Sylva, Gus Kahn, Al Jolson. “As originally sung by AL JOLSON”. Jolson again claiming some writing credit. This was another smash hit that got interpolated into Sinbad.
OH! HOW I WISH I COULD SLEEP UNTIL MY DADDY COMES HOME 1918 – Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young. Tiny child looks pathetically from her bed. “Successfully introduced by AL JOLSON”. One of Jolson’s mawkish songs bulging with sentimentality and also relating to families separated by World War I.
LET THE LITTLE JOY BELL RING 1919 – Cliff Friend. “As Introduced by AL JOLSON in SINBAD, THE SAILOR. Cover art by Al Barbelle.
I’LL SING YOU A SONG ABOUT DEAR OLD DIXIE LAND 1919 – Creamer and Layton. “Originally introduced and sung by AL JOLSON in SINBAD under the direction of Lee and J. J. Shubert. Henry Creamer and Turner Layton were the most successful African-American composing team of this period and were much sought after by white performers to compose for them.
SWANEE 1919 – Irving Caesar, George Gershwin. Cover photo of AL JOLSON in SINBAD at the Winter Garden in New York. This is the original sheet music for the great Jolson classic song.
BY THE HONEYSUCKLE VINE 1919 – Bud De Sylva, Al Jolson. Another one from SINBAD but this one has an actual autographed signature from Jolson that is NOT a facsimile signature. It is signed “Sincerely Yours, Al Jolson” and the signature can be verified as his own.
YOU AIN’T HEARD NOTHIN’ YET 1919 – Al Jolson, Gus Kahn, Bud De Sylva. This was Jolson’s cry out to his audience every time he performed and it was turned into a special song for him to use on these occasions.
GRIEVING FOR YOU 1920 – Joe Gibson, Joe Ribaud, Joe Gold. “AL JOLSON’s big song hit”. The 1920s came with no diminishing of Jolson’s incredible popularity. Before radio, he could fill a large room with the power and clarity of his voice and there was no one else who could do it with his intensity and raw power, his comedy and also his pathos, as this maudlin song conveys.
O-HI-O 1920 – Jack Yellen, Abe Olman. Cover art by Helen Van Doorn Morgan and published in Chicago. All the popular singers of the time did this big hit tune but AL JOLSON is placed in the very center of all the stars since he introduced the song in SINBAD. He’s surrounded here by the other stars of the entertainment firmament of 1920 including Ted Lewis in The Greenwich Village Follies, Arthur West the comic singer with the Fanchon and Marco Satires, Jack Strouse of the Century Promenade Show atop the Century Theatre in New York City, Eddie Cantor in The Florenz Ziegfeld Midnight Rounders, Lou Holtz in George White’s Scandals and Gus Van and Joe Schenck in the Ziegfeld Follies.
YOO-HOO 1921 – B. G. De Sylva, Al Jolson. “AL JOLSON’s Sensational Song Success”. Jolson claimed he wrote the music for this one but he was notorious for cutting in on Buddy De Sylva’s royalties; De Sylva allowed it because if Jolson promoted the song he would still get more money that if Jolson did not.
MY MAMMY / THE SUN SHINES EAST — THE SUN SHINES WEST 1921 – Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis, Walter Donaldson. Lewis and Young were used to providing special material for Jolson and this became his number one recognized song, sung in blackface as he thumps his chest and pines for his old mammy down in Dixie and goes down on one knee. Often he wore white gloves and around his mouth put the equivalent of Noxzema to contrast with the burnt cork blackface. People referred to “Mammy Songs” since so many imitations were made and Jolson later made a film with this subject matter. Irving Berlin secured the sheet music publication rights.
ALWAYS 1921 – H. Kroll. “Al Jolson’s Big Success”. This is not the Irving Berlin tune of the same name.
IT’S YOU 1921 – Benny Davis, Con Conrad. “AL JOLSON’s Latest Song Success”
DOWN YONDER 1921 – L. Wolfe Gilbert. “Sensational Hit as Sung by AL JOLSON”. Gilbert had also written the Jolson smash Waitin’ for the Robert E. Lee and this tune was a kind of sequel. Oddly, it wasn’t a hit at the time but became a western swing hit for Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers years later!
APRIL SHOWERS 1921 – B. G. De Sylva, Louis Silvers. One of the huge AL JOLSON hits in his next Lee and J. J. Shubert musical extravaganza Bombo. The New Century Theatre was renamed the Al Jolson Theatre for Jolson’s new show which ran for 219 performances! The name change didn’t last however.
APRIL SHOWERS 1921 – B. G. De Sylva, Louis Silvers. Alternate print color version.
AIN’T LOVE GRAND 1921 – B. G. De Sylva, Walter Donaldson, Con Conrad. Another tune from Bombo. “Al Jolson’s Latest Big Scream”.
SHE KNOWS IT 1921 – Jack Stern, Clarence J. Marks. “Introduced by AL JOLSON”
MY BUDDY 1922 – Gus Kahn, Walter Donaldson. “Introduced by AL JOLSON”. This soupy classic has been recorded by over 100 artists.
WHO CARES? 1922 – Jack Yellen, Milton Ager. “AL JOLSON’s sensational hit in Mssrs. Lee and J. J. Shubert’s Production of the Musical Extravaganza Bombo.
LONGING 1922 – Eddie Lewis, Erwin Schmidt. “The Season’s Sensation”. Published in Chicago by Harold Dixon’s firm this one failed to catch on.
TOOT, TOOT, TOOTSIE GOO’ BYE 1922 – Gus Kahn, Ernie Erdman, Dan Russo. “AL JOLSON’s Big Hit in Bombo“. One of the very biggest of Jolson smashes. The song was brought back and included in Jolson’s historic talking picture The Jazz Singer in 1927.
THE YANKEE DOODLE BLUES 1922 – George Gershwin, Irving Caesar, B. G. De Sylva. “I am proud to sing a real American song” wrote Jolson on the music.
OLD FASHIONED GIRL 1922 – Al Jolson. Another hit solely claimed to have been written by himself for Bombo.
AL JOLSON’S COO-COO SONG 1922 – B. G. De Sylva, Al Jolson. Another one from Bombo, which kept changing songs right and left as many people came back to see the show multiple times and Jolson was ever after fresh material.
MORNING WILL COME 1922 – B. G. De Sylva, Con Conrad, Al Jolson. Yet another hit from Bombo.
SWEET ONE 1923 – Al Jolson, Louis Silvers. Silvers had written the enormous hit April Showers but this one didn’t take off even though it was “Originally Introduced by AL JOLSON”.
I’M GOIN’ SOUTH 1923 – Abner Silver, Harry Woods. Another late interpolation into Bombo that proved to be a hit.
DIRTY HANDS DIRTY FACE 1923 – Al Jolson, Grant Clarke, Edgar Leslie, James V. Monaco. “AL JOLSON’s masterpiece featured in BOMBO at the Winter Garden in New York.
STELLA 1923 – Al Jolson, Benny Davis, Harry Akst. “Featured by AL JOLSON”
CALIFORNIA HERE I COME 1924 – Al Jolson, Bud De Sylva, Joseph Meyer. One of the all-time classic Jolson songs. Originally written for the 1921 show Bombo, Jolson recorded it in 1924 and it became a giant hit.
LAST NIGHT ON THE BACK PORCH I LOVED HER BEST OF ALL 1923 – Lew Brown, Carl Schrabstader. Another one interpolated into Bombo, but it originally was introduced by Winnie Lightner in the show George White’s Scandals.
ARCADY 1923 – Al Jolson, B. G. De Sylva. Another big hit from Bombo.
I WONDER WHAT’S BECOME OF SALLY 1924 – Jack Yellen, Milton Ager. “My biggest ballad hit” wrote AL JOLSON of this tune which was also identified with the Ziegfeld Follies stars Van and Schenck and bandleader Irving Kaufmann.
KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE, TROUBLE’S A BUBBLE 1924 – Al Jolson, B. G. De Sylva, Lewis Gensler. Another one from Big Boy.
IF YOU KNEW SUSIE LIKE I KNOW SUSIE 1925 – B. G. De Sylva. Another hit from Big Boy, probably on the road, but this one was more identified with Eddie Cantor.
MIAMI 1925 – B. G. De Sylva, James F. Hanley, Joseph Meyer. Cover AL JOLSON in Big Boy. Presented by the Messrs. Shubert.
ALABAMY BOUND 1925 – Bud De Sylva, Bud Green, Ray Henderson. Yet another Jolson classic which was featured by Paul Whiteman’s orchestra but became a hit for Jolson.
BECAUSE I LOVE YOU 1926 – Irving Berlin. Recorded also by John McCormack.
NO MORE WORRYIN’ 1926 – Gus Kahn, Walter Donaldson, Jay Mills. “Al Jolson’s New Song Hit”.
ONE O’CLOCK BABY 1927 – B. G. De Sylva, Lew Brown, Al Jolson. AL JOLSON in Big Boy. By this time Big Boy had finished even with its road tour so it is hard to see how this could have been from that show. It may just have been claimed to be one of the show’s interpolations– there were so many that nobody would know for sure.
SWANEE RIVER TRAIL 1927 – Al Jolson, Irving Caesar. An attempt to relive the fame of Swanee but the song didn’t particularly take off in popularity.
FORGIVE ME 1927 – Jack Yellen, Milton Ager. This song was featured by many pop stars of the time, among which Jolson.
THERE’S A RAINBOW ‘ROUND MY SHOULDER 1928 – Al Jolson, Billy Rose, Dave Dreyer. “AL JOLSON’s Big Hit in THE SINGING FOOL. After the success of the 1927 The Jazz Singer, Jolson was a huge movie star of the late twenties and early thirties. He wasn’t much of a screen actor though and his subsequent talkies didn’t live up to the first film’s success and became rather repetitive and mawkish. This, however, was another of Jolson’s huge hits.
SONNY BOY 1928 – Al Jolson, B. G. De Sylva, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson. Cover photo of AL JOLSON and DAVEY LEE. Deliberately cooked up to be the most oversweet, maudlin tune ever, this became Jolson’s very biggest selling hit, producing untold copies of sheet music but well over the million mark if not two million. The movie was shown at the Winter Garden in New York which was the scene of many Jolson Broadway triumphs.
LITTLE PAL 1929 – Al Jolson, B. G. De Sylva, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson. Cover photos of AL JOLSON. An attempt to do Sonny Boy II with this song failed to generate the same enthusiasm for Jolson’s Warner Brothers and Vitaphone film Say It With Songs despite the addition again of little Davey Lee.
WHY CAN’T YOU 1929 – another tune from Say It With Songs. This one also contains the song Used to You.
USED TO YOU 1929 – another tune from Say It With Songs.
ONE SWEET KISS 1929 – Al Jolson, Dave Dreyer. This one features AL JOLSON with DAVEY LEE on the cover. This is a 2 for 1 price sheet music featuring King Vidor’s Hallelujah movie song on the back: Waiting at the End of the Road by Irving Berlin.
TO MY MAMMY and LET ME SING AND I’M HAPPY 1930 – Irving Berlin. “AL JOLSON in his greatest picture Mammy“. This Warner Brothers Vitaphone film was starting to show serious cracks in the Jolson mystique as the mammy idea he had been mining for years was starting to grow thin and the novelty of motion picture sound was wearing off also and critics were beginning to look at Jolson’s hammy acting more critically. But the combination of powerful director Michael Curtiz and an Irving Berlin score made this, the fourth Jolson film, one of his liveliest and most watchable today.
LET ME SING AND I’M HAPPY 1930 – Irving Berlin. Single sheet music from the film Mammy. This was perhaps the biggest hit from the film.
TO MY MAMMY 1930 – Irving Berlin. Single sheet music from the film Mammy.
LIZA LEE 1930 – Bud Green, Sam H. Stept. AL JOLSON in blackface in BIG BOY. By the time of this release musicals were box office poison and yet the film did reasonably well because it had Jolson, still a big enough star. Rarely seen today, the film featured Jolson in blackface until the film’s end where he comes out as himself and just sings to the audience. Following this his career went into a decline after which he had to abandon his old-fashioned darkie and mammy material and try to become more contemporary. He stayed afloat but was no longer the mega-star he once was, partly also due to the popularity of handsome crooners using the newly popular microphone over the radio: Bing Crosby, Russ Columbo and Rudy Vallee.
ELIZABETH (MY QUEEN) 1931 – Irving Caesar, Robert Katscher, Aben Kandel, Geza Herczeg, Karl Farkas. AL JOLSON, “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” in the Broadway musical The Wonder Bar. Staged by William Mollison. “A Continental Novelty of European Night Life”. The show was set in a Parisian night club hosted by Jolson. The show managed only 76 performances which was rather shocking for a Jolson enterprise on Broadway. It was later made into a movie with Jolson in the same role in 1934 for Warner Brothers. Produced by Morris Gest and Lee and J. J. Shubert.
OH, DONNA CLARA 1931 – Irving Caesar, Robert Katscher. Also from the Broadway show The Wonder Bar.
THE OLD KITCHEN KETTLE KEEPS SINGING A SONG 1933 – Harry Woods, Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly. AL JOLSON in a more modern guise now and no blackface but he would soon revert to that in the extremely racist sequence of Wonder Bar in 1934 with his version of Going to Heaven on a Missouri Mule. With the popularity of Forty-Second Street and other Busby Berkeley musicals for Warner Brothers, Jolson got a bit of a career boost.
THE LITTLE THINGS YOU USED TO DO 1935 – Harry Warren, Al Dubin. Cover photo AL JOLSON, RUBY KEELER in Go Into Your Dance. Al had married Ruby in 1928 at the peak of his career and they divorced in 1940 after 11 tumultuous years of marriage during which time her career sometimes exceeded his. Their only film together was this one.
ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE 1935 – same credits as the preceding. This tune was a bigger hit.
IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT DIXIE 1936 – Irving Caesar, Sammy Lerner, Gerald Marks. Cover features AL JOLSON in blackface and the song was published by Caesar. The big hit version on record was actually by Jimmy Dorsey with Bob Eberle on vocals.
I NEVER KNEW HEAVEN COULD SPEAK 1939 – Mack Gordon, Harry Revel. Cover photos of ALICE FAYE, TYRONE POWER, LOUIS PRIMA and AL JOLSON in Rose of Washington Square. The Darryl F. Zanuck production featured Jolson in blackface in rather a cameo role and not as the star.
ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE 1939 – Ballard Macdonald, James F. Hanley. Another music from the film with a different cover. Jolson reportedly hated playing second fiddle and just singing his old songs and Alice Faye is supposed to have hated working with him and his gigantic ego.
MY MAMMY 1939 – Walter Donaldson, Sam Lewis, Joe Young. Yet another version of sheet music from the film, this time featuring AL JOLSON in blackface on the cover with ALICE FAYE and TYRONE POWER.
DON’T LET IT GET YOU DOWN 1940 – E. Y. Harburg, Burton Lane. Book by Guy Bolton, Matty Brooks, Eddie Davis. From the Broadway show Hold On To Your Hats, starring AL JOLSON, RUBY KEELER, MARTHA RAYE, JACK WHITING. This was Jolson’s last Broadway show and he was going through the divorce with Ruby Keeler at the time and although she performed with him in Chicago, she was replaced with an expanded part for Martha Raye when the show hit Broadway. Our sheet music still has Ruby Keeler listed as being in the cast.
Al Jolson also had a brother in show business named Harry Jolson but apart from riding the coat-tails of his much more famous brother, Jolson achieved little lasting fame. They sang together as boys and Harry appeared in at least one film and performed songs and comedy routines on vaudeville tour circuits. He had a good voice but lacked the charisma of his younger brother, although he helped pave the way for Al to get into show business. After Al’s death Harry attempted to capitalize further doing tributes to his late brother to get employment. The University of Arizona has several sheet musics featuring Harry Jolson whose own career quietly spanned more than 35 years:
MY HAWAIIAN SUNSHINE 1916 by L. Wolfe Gilbert, Carey Morgan. Insert photo of HARRY JOLSON. Hawaiian landscape and native girl on cover with art by Starmer.
CRYING FOR YOU 1923 – Ned Miller, Chester Cohn. Cover photo of HARRY JOLSON.
DOODLE-DOO-DOO, A DANCING SONG 1924 – Art Kassel, Mel Stitzel. Cover photo of HARRY JOLSON.