During the run of The Whirl of Society (1912) Jolson started the legendary Sunday Concerts so actors and people in showbusiness could get a chance to see him perform.

 

Blackface was banned on Sunday nights and these concerts proved conclusively that Jolson could dominate a stage without any props.

 

 

Another Jolson innovation was the Winter Garden runway which allowed him to get closer to his adoring audience.

 

Meanwhile songwriters encouraged Jolson to sing and record their songs. In those days if Al sang a song it would become a hit. His image or name on the sheet music was also a big draw. Al might have contributed an odd interpolated line in his big hits but likely his drawing power meant he could demand a cut of the royalties for very little.    

Among the long lasting hits he popularised in his early years on Broadway were Waitin' For the Robert E Lee (featured in The Whirl of Society (1912)), The Spaniard That Blighted My Life (originally written in 1911 by British music hall star Billy Merson Jolson probably first sang it in a 1912 Sunday concert) and You Made Me Love You (introduced in The Honeymoon Express (1913).

 

 

 

The best example of a song boosted by Jolson was George Gershwin and Irving Caesar's Swanee (1919). It was first featured in a Broadway revue called Demi-tasse with chorus girls dancing to it in a big production number with light bulbs in their slippers but the song flopped until Jolson heard it at a party and put it into his latest show Sinbad. It became the biggest song hit Gershwin ever had.      

Louis Epstein or Eppy as Al called him had taken over from Art Klein as the star's manager. With the end of the Great War a special program was presented at the Century Theatre in New York. As well as Jolson all the big stars of the day were on the bill.

 

Enrico Caruso then considered the greatest singer in the world sang two powerful Italian war songs and finished with Over There to a rousing reception as George Burns recalled "the roof caved in." Then this young thin fellow came on and said : "Folks, you ain't heard nothin' yet!" and they hadn't as Burns recalled they wouldn't let him off or let the show go on.

 

The only person who really missed out was Al's first wife. On 25th June 1919 Henrietta Keller divorced 33 year old Jolson. She had been pretty much forgotten in the whirl of his Broadway career.

1920 with future President Warren G.Harding
1920 with future President Warren G.Harding