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Al Jolson and Eubie Blake

Much has been said, and much has been written, about Al Jolson, blackface, and racism. Rather than trying to explain away a theatrical convention, no matter what the historical context, let us look at the man, Al Jolson, and see by his actions what his feeling about race really were. This is taken from the book JOLSON - THE LEGEND COMES TO LIFE by Herbert Goldman, published in 1988. Reference pages 170-171.

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake

The great song-writing and performing team of Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake were in Hartford (Connecticut) in December, 1919 -- at the same time that Al Jolson played there in Sinbad.

"After we did our first show," Sissle told writer Martin Abramson shortly after Al's death in 1950, "we went into a dirty little restaurant to get a bite, but the owner took one look at us and said, 'We don't serve colored people. Get the hell out of here.' Well, we were pretty sore about it, but there wasn't anything to do but get out. By accident, we bumped into a reporter from one of the local papers and told him about the incident. Sure enough, the next day the paper carried an item about it. And to our everlasting amazement, we promptly got a call from Al Jolson. He was in town with his show and even though we were two very unimportant guys whom he'd never heard of until that morning, he was so sore about that story that he wanted to make it up to us.

"Well, that night he came over in a big car and said he was taking us to the swellest restaurant in town and he'd punch anybody in the nose who tried to kick us out. I can't tell you how grateful we were to him, but we told him we didn't like to go anywhere we weren't wanted. Then Jolson said, 'Wait a minute, I know where we can have a good time!' He turned the car around, drove us to a Jewish delicatessen and treated us to a wonderful meal. Then he bought up a load of pastrami sandwiches and took them out to the car. We sat in the car until the early hours of the morning eating our heads off and listening to the greatest star in America performing, just for us!"

Eubie Blake and Al were friends from that night on. They sometimes went to the fights together and discussed the relative abilities of great black and Jewish fighters of the past: Jack Johnson, Joe Choynski, George Dixon, Abe Attel. And Sissle, president of the Negro Actors' Guild, represented that organization at Al's funeral.

Here's a sample of what Al Jolson could do with a Sissle & Blake number,
I'm Just Wild About Harry!

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Updated 28 May 00