The Music of Al Jolson, Page 2


This is a continuation of the December, 2002 Feature, if you missed page one, check the link at the end of this page or use this link.






Music by: George Gershwin
Lyrics by: Irving Caesar
Cover artist: unknown


The great American composer George Gershwin wrote mostly for himself and for his Broadway shows. His output of popular songs written out of context of a show is relatively small. This work represents one of Gershwin's earliest works that became a hit, one source says it was his first, as it was also for the lyricist Caesar. The song was not originally tied to Jolson. It was introduced by Muriel De Forrest in a production at the Capitol Theater in 1919. The song was well received but had very little notice till Jolson sang it one Sunday night at the Winter Garden. Jolson liked it so much, he added the song to the road tour of Sinbad as one of his featured numbers. As with most songs Jolson took for his productions, Swanee became a huge hit.


Jolson recorded it in 1920 and the sheet music was a million seller. Jolson sang the song in the Gershwin film biography, Rhapsody in Blue (1945) and also in the Jolson Story and Jolson Sings Again. In 1954, Judy Garland sang it in A Star Is Born. The song has an unusual feature. After the verse and chorus, there is a section titled Trio that is repeated. Trios are rarely found in songs but common in piano solo or orchestral works. The use of the trio, which is rather different from the rest of the song ads an interesting twist and a unique ending not found in many other popular songs.


George Gershwin (1898 - 1937), could rightfully be called the dean of American music for the early 20th century. A composer of prodigious talents, he wrote some of America's greatest classics for stage as well as large scale works such as his Piano Concerto and Rhapsody in Blue for piano and orchestra (1924). His other major works include An American In Paris (1928), a tone poem for orchestra that was later used as the basis for a motion picture starring Gene Kelly, and the great American opera, Porgy and Bess introduced in Boston in 1935. The number of songs that became popular from his large scale stage works is impressive and unmatched or exceeded by only a few composers. His untimely death in 1937 deprived us of one of the greatest creative musical talents of our modern times.


Listen to and see this Jolson signature song(scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version






Music by: Al Jolson & Vincent Rose
Lyrics by: Jolson & Rose
Cover artist: Frederick Manning

An artistic and lovely cover art work graces this also lovely song. Long a favorite, still often played and sung, Jolson and Rose created one of America's greatest songs in this collaboration. Not much detail is available as to the extent of Jolson's composing skills or his musical education. Several of the works attributed to him state "melody by Al Jolson." The implication is that he created the melodic line but others may have probably filled in the harmony, accompaniment and bass lines. His lyrics however are probably stand alone.


This song was first introduced by Jolson at the Winter Garden in 1920. After its publication, the great Italian composer Puccini and his publisher filed a lawsuit against Jolson et al claiming that the melody was plagiarized from Puccini's aria E lucevan le stelle from the opera La Tosca. Puccini proved his case and won a $25,000 settlement and all future royalties. In spite of the legal wrangling, the song has enjoyed a long and luminous run as a hit performed by many stars.


In 1937, Benny Goodman's Quartet featured the song and their Victor recording became an American classic. That performance was repeated in the 1956 film, The Benny Goodman Story starring Steve Allen with Goodman himself playing clarinet for the soundtrack. It appeared in Cairo in 1942, sung by Robert Young and Jeanette MacDonald, in Margie (1946) and Gogi Grant sang it with the De Castro Sisters in the 1957 Helen Morgan Story. Of course, it also appeared in The Jolson Story in 1946 with Jolson doing the honors again for Larry Parks.


Hear and see this Jolson song(SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version




My Mammy


Music by: Walter Donaldson
Lyrics by: Joe Young & Sam Lewis
Cover artist: Rose Symbol


Though our copy is dated 1920, My Mammy was actually first introduced by William Frawley in Vaudeville in 1918. Jolson heard the song and took it to try out in the Broadway show, Sinbad. The song resonated so well with the audience ( a true show stopper) and so Jolson incorporated it into the production. We've featured a number of songs that are strongly identified with Jolson but arguably, this song is probably the ONE song most associated with the Jolson name and persona.


Jolson recorded this song twice and performed it in no less than five of his films; The Jazz Singer (1927); The Singing Fool (1928), Rose Of Washington Square (1939) and in the soundtracks of The Jolson Story and Jolson Sings Again. The group The Happenings revived the song in 1967 with a recording that did well, reaching the top 20 on the hit list.


Walter Donaldson (1893 - 1947)
Born in Brooklyn, New York. was one of the most prolific American popular song writers of the twentieth century. He wrote more than 600 songs in his long career. He composed most of his best during the years between the two World Wars, when he collaborated with many of the best known lyricists of his day (among them Gus Kahn, Edgar Leslie, Bud de Sylva, and Johnny Mercer), but he also wrote many of his own lyrics, such as for At Sundown, Little White Lies, and You're Driving Me Crazy.


Donaldson inherited a certain amount of musical skill as both of his parents were musically inclined. Though he received no formal training in music, he began by writing songs and music for school productions. After graduation from High School, he went to work in a brokerage house on Wall Street. Soon after, he became a "song plugger" on Tin Pan Alley but was fired for writing songs on company time. His first published song, Back Home In Tennessee, (MIDI) in 1915 was an immediate hit and he published two other hits that same year; You'd Never Know The Old Home-Town of Mine and We'll Have A Jubilee In My Old Kentucky Home.


During the First World War, Donaldson performed as an entertainer at Camp Upton New York and he wrote a number of war related songs including Don't Cry Frenchy (Scorch format) and How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm (Scorch format). After the war Donaldson joined Irving Berlin's firm and stayed with them for a decade. It was this period that Donaldson wrote his biggest and most lasting hits. His Jolson song, My Mammy set the stage for his rise and then his collaboration with Gus Kahn beginning in 1922 established him (and their team) as one of America's greatest songwriters. Some of the hits they generated during this period were; Carolina In The Morning, My Buddy, Yes Sir, That's My Baby, Makin' Whoopee and My Baby Just Cares For Me. Like many songwriters of the period, as soon as movies began incorporating sound, Donaldson went to Hollywood to produce music for the movies and he contributed a number of songs to movies including, Follow The Boys and The Great Ziegfeld.


Donaldson also collaborated with a number of other lyricists, a list of which reads like a who's who of American popular music; Billy Rose, Lew Brown, Howard Johnson, Ballard MacDonald and George Whiting with whom he wrote My Blue Heaven. In 1928 Donaldson resigned from the Berlin organization and formed his own publishing house (Donaldson, Douglas and Gumble). By 1946, Donaldson was plagued with illness and he withdrew from all activities. He died in Santa Monica, California on July 15, 1947.


Donaldson's music lives on today, over a half century since his passing. Many of his songs have been, and still are recorded and the singers who have recorded his songs include the greatest singers of our times including Frank Sinatra, Fats Domino, George Shearing, Django Reinhardt, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald, Bix Beiderbecke, and Louis Armstrong.


Listen to and see this great work Printable! (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version






Music by: Al Jolson
Lyrics by: B.G. De Sylva
Cover artist: unknown

In 1921, the Schuberts produced yet another Jolson hit show, Bombo. Opening at Jolson's own theater on 59th Street on October 6, 1921, Bombo ran for several months and was one of Jolson's more popular shows. Again, the Schuberts teamed up with the winning team of Atteridge and Romberg for a terrific score and book. The show incorporated a number of other songs that would become hits including April Showers and Toot, Toot Tootsie (see the next two songs). However, you can't hit all the nails on the head and this song, though very pleasant and musical, just did not quite make the grade of the other works from the show.

Jolson recorded this song on the Columbia label (Co A-3513) with the Broadway Quartette. On the flip side was Georgia Rose (w. Jimmy Flynn and Alex Sullivan, m. Harry Rosenthal).


Hear this great old song Printable! (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version



April Showers


Music by: Louis Silvers
Lyrics by: B.G. De Sylva
Cover artist: unknown


In my humble opinion, this is one of America's greatest ballads. A dreamy opening verse (a la Over The Rainbow) sets the stage for the loving and delicate melody that follows in the chorus. No wonder this was one of Jolson's greatest hits. His velvety voice and performance style were perfect for such a great work. Also from the stage work, Bombo and recorded on Columbia with Weep No More on the flip side, April Showers has become another of America's classic songs. Jolson sang it of course in both biographical movies and re-recorded it in 1946 and sold over a million copies. The song was also used as the title song in the 1948 movie April Showers starring Ann Sothern and Jack Carson. Jolson continued to enjoy a hit song writing relationship with B.G. DeSylva throughout his career. For this work, De Sylva was teamed with a lesser known but no less talented composer.


Louis Silvers (b.1889, New York City - d.1954, Hollywood). A composer pianist and conductor, Silvers was a vaudeville pianist and then later music director for Gus Edward's vaudeville shows for ten years. April Showers is his biggest hit however he also wrote the film score for 1927's The Jazz Singer and One Night of Love in 1934.


Hear this great old song

Listen to MIDI version



Toot, Toot Tootsie (Goo' Bye)


Music by: Gus Kahn, Ernie Erdman & Dan Russo
Lyrics by: Kahn, Erdman & Russo
Cover artist: unknown

We'll end our feature this month with Jolson's ultimate Good-Bye song. Another of the major hits from the show Bombo, this was also a show stopper. The song has long been associated with Jolson as well as the age and image of the "flapper" during the roaring twenties. Our copy shows Kahn, Erdman & Russo as the writers but Lissauer's Encyclopedia of Popular Music in America as well as other sources credit Ted Fiorito and Robert King and makes no mention of Russo. Of course, Jolson recorded the song for Columbia on CO A-3564 with the Frank Crumit orchestra and True Blue Sam on the flip side. As with many of his top hits, this song appeared in both Jolson movies, The Jazz Singer and Rose Of Washington Square. It also appeared in the Kahn biographical film I'll See You In My Dreams (1951).


Gus Kahn (1886 - 1941) is one of America's greatest lyricists. Born in Coblenz, Germany, his family came to the USA and settled in Chicago in 1891. He worked mostly in non-music related jobs but persisted in seeking outlets for his song lyrics. His first song was published in 1907 and after that, he concentrated on writing lyrics for vaudeville performers in Chicago first, then in New York in the 1920's. In 1933, he moved to California and focused on writing for movies. The many eminent composers he teamed with over his long career include, Isham Jones, Walter Donaldson (My Buddy) , Egbert Van Alstyne, George Gershwin and Ernie Erdman (Toot -Toot -Tootsie). Many of his songs have become standards with Pretty Baby (1916) being perhaps the most notable. Other standards by Kahn include, Carolina In The Morning (1922), Makin' Whoopee, 1928 and Liza (1928). His movie biography, I'll See You In My Dreams (1951) starring Danny Thomas and Doris Day is an engrossing story that is filled with many of his hits. Kahn died in Beverly Hills in 1941.

Enjoy this rare old song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version



That completes our look at the music of Al Jolson. You'll find other Jolson hits within some of our past features so browse through them or just use our search page (top menu) to find references to Jolson or browse through our catalog listing. If you have not seen our biography of Jolson yet, take the time to visit it and learn more about this fascinating performer.


As always, be sure to come back next month for a new feature or just come back anytime to browse our extensive archive of issues and special articles.

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