Jolson, Al jōl´sən [key], 1888–1950, American entertainer, whose original name was Asa Yoelson, b. Russia. He emigrated to the United States c.1895. The son of a rabbi, Jolson first planned to become a cantor but soon turned to the stage. After his New York City debut in 1899, he worked in circuses, in minstrel shows, and in vaudeville in 1909 in San Francisco he first sang Mammy in black face, and his style brought him fame and many imitators. The first of his many Broadway appearances was in La Belle Paree (1911) his film work began with The Jazz Singer (1927), the first major film with sound and a landmark in the history of motion pictures. After 1932 he had his own radio show. Among the songs he made famous were April Showers, Swanee, Sonny-Boy, and Mammy.
See H. Jolson, Mistah Jolson (1951) M. Freedland, Jolson (1972).