Al Jolson Home Page|His Works|Radio|08 Sep 37 Gershwin Memorial

Al Jolson's experience with radio began in the dawn of the medium, and continued until the birth of television, and his death. He started the Kraft Music Hall, along with programs for Lifebuoy Soap, Colgate Tooth Powder, and Chevrolet, and died while waiting to go on to Bing Crosby's Chesterfield program. On this page, I will be featuring radio programs, in Real Audio format, for your enjoyment.

Jolson at Gershwin funeral
Al Jolson at
Gershwin funeral

George Gershwin was that rare individual whose works spanned genres. His songs were sung by Jolson, Astaire, Merman and Garland. His "Porgy and Bess" introduced a new form of opera. Concert pieces such as "American in Paris" and "Concerto in F" showed the versatility of this singular talent. So his death, at just 38 years old from a brain tumor, was a bitter pill for the entertainment world to swallow.

While Al Jolson, who had helped give birth to Gershwin's career with his landmark song "Swanee," was the first to raise his voice in song to memorialize the songwriter the day after his death, on July 11, 1937, a more formal and extensive tribute was needed.

That tribute was delivered on September 8, 1937, when Jolson joined other stars in the Hollywood Bowl to celebrate the works of George Gershwin. The two hour program was boradcast over the CBS radio network, and picked up by affiliates in Canada and overseas. It was reported that some 22,000 people jammed Hollywood traffic trying to enter the venue for the performance.

Rather than present the entire program here, I am including several pieces that are of particular interest to the theme of this website. See the note below if you are interested in obtaining the full recording of the concert.

The presentation begins with a eulogy, given by that master of the art, George Jessel. George introduced Al Jolson, who sang Gershwin's "Swanee" unlike his usual performances. There was no whistling bridge, Jolson sang the lyrics he usually omitted.

Jolson was followed by Gladys Swarthout, singing "The Man I Love." I am not fond of the treatment given this great song, and am including it more for continuity in the set.

Fred Astaire closed the turn with a great rendition of "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Just as with Jolson's performance, Astaire's interpretation is pure, simple, and classic, and does justice to the Gershwin melody.

Also included in this clip is a performance of Gershwin's "Concerto in F," with an essentially yet unknown pianist, a close friend of Gershwin, making perhaps his first national appearance. His name was Oscar Levant.

Although there are many more of Gershwin's works filling this over two hour program, these give you a feel for the passion expressed at Gershwin's passing. Members of the International Al Jolson Society can contact the Audio Department for a full recording of the concert, enjoying these and many more works.

But, today, here is about 47 minutes of Gershwin, and it does not get much better than that.

Listen to this radio program and watch a Video Podcast with an excerpt of the show illustrated with photos of the stars.

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     This is an excerpt of the September 8, 1937, Memorial Concert to George Gershwin with George Jessel and Al Jolson, illustrated with pictures of the stars from the era, giving the flavor of the performance, as well as a photo of the actual concert in the Hollywood Bowl. This brief excerpt of the two hour program includes Jessel's eulogy of Gershwin, and Jolson's performance of Gershwin's first, and greatest, hit, "Swanee," which he sang without whistling..

Mentioned above is the fact that on the day after Gershwin's death, Al Jolson took to the airwaves with a tribute in song. In that broadcast, on July 12, 1937, he sang Gershwin's "Swanee," again without whistling, and with slighly different phrasing than that used in the Hollywood Bowl concert, and "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" from Gershwin's opera, Porgy and Bess.

Click here to listen to Jolson's performance of these songs.

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This listing and material Copyright © 1995-2017 Marc I. Leavey, M.D. Baltimore, Maryland
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