Courtesy Marc I. Leavey, M.D.
Al Jolson as he appeared in the 1935 Warner Brothers film “Go Into Your Dance,” in which he starred with his wife (at the time) Ruby Keeler.
Al Jolson will be forever known as the “World’s Greatest Entertainer” to his ardent fans. Once again, they will enthusiastically gather this month at the annual festival celebrating Jolson’s music — and multifaceted career — on Aug. 17.
This year’s festival marks the 63rd anniversary of the International Al Jolson Society (founded after Jolson’s death in 1950), which has hosted the event on the South Shore for 20 years now.
“All these years after he’s gone his music and talents still fill a room,” said Jan Hernstat, the International Al Jolson Society’s longtime president. “It brings me a great deal of joy to enable people to get to ‘see’ Jolson by sharing remembrances through this festival. My goal continues to be to bring Jolson back into the forefront of people’s memories by continuing to promote the talents of this man. He is truly the world’s greatest
According to Hernstat, those who retain the image of Jolson as that blackface singer of the early 20th century are only seeing one side of a complex multi-talented performer.
“In order to understand the evolution of music over the years, you really start with Jolson,” Hernstat said. “He was a pioneer in both music and on Broadway. He sang, danced and told jokes and was basically the first superstar, long before there was all the media access that we have today. He had worldwide appeal at a time when all entertainers had was stage and movies, without the instant access to information. There was no TV, or even radio when he first started performing. He had to really do something special to get attention.”