Monday, June 28, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: JOLSON sings 'SWANEE' in 'RHAPSODY IN BLUE'


Perhaps THE iconic moment from Warner Brothers 1945 musical biography of George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue, is Al Jolson singing Swanee. Written by Gershwin and Irving Caesar in 1919, the song was on the road to failure until Jolson stepped up, singing it in his Broadway hit, Sinbad. It was then associated with Jolie for the rest of his life.

Rhapsody in Blue stars Robert Alda (yes, Alan's dad) as George, and features many Gershwin contemporaries playing themselves, including Paul Whiteman, whose orchestra premiered the symphonic Rhapsody in Blue; Oscar Levant, Gershwin's friend who also did the piano solos for the film; George White, the producer of Broadway's Scandals; Anne Brown, the original Bess of Gershwin's folk opera, Porgy and Bess; and, of course, Jolson.

This is posted in honor of The International Al Jolson Society's salute this week to Jolson's memorable singing of Swanee in Rhapsody in Blue. That entire clip can be viewed now by visiting the Society's impressive site at http://www.jolson.org/.
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The 11 x 14 lobby card shown is pretty rare, and unfortunately has its share of imperfections. (No Photoshop has been applied.) Still, it is a treasured part of my collection. Note that that the piece is colorized, that is, hand tinted. Jolie's blackface and hands remain, per se, black and white--as is the movie. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
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Jolson sang Swanee again in The Jolson Story (1946), and can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tngIiaV3BFo

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