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February 1998, Week 2


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Fri, 6 Feb 1998 13:17:42 -0600
TEXT/PLAIN (36 lines)
Mark Pizzato wonders:
> Does Al Jolson's black-faced performance as Jackie Rabinowitz in THE JAZZ
> SINGER (1927) accurately portray the situation for Jewish and other white
> singers/performers of early twentieth century American theatre?  Did they
> "have to" perform in black-face in order to appear onstage as "jazz"
> singers or "minstrel" comedians?  Is that what audiences expected and
> tradition dictated--for how long?  Or, did whites (and blacks) also sing
> and tell jokes in a similar way without black-face during the same period?
> These are some of the many issues that arise when I show my students THE
> JAZZ SINGER as a glimpse of the minstrel show, black-face tradition and its
> influence on modern musical theatre and film.  I would appreciate answers,
> speculations, and references that might illuminate our classroom
> discussion.  For example, one of my students here (a white Carolinian)
> asked about the last, very emotional scene of the film, as the black-faced
> Jackie sings "Mammie" to his Jewish mother in the theatre audience: "Is
> that supposed to be funny?"
See the discussion of TJS in J. Hoberman's BRIDGE OF LIGHT: YIDDISH
FILM BETWEEN TWO WORLDS.  Hoberman notes that the final rendition of
"Mammy" was actually added by Warner Bros., where the film was supposed
to end with Jolson's Kol Nidre at the synagogue.
Don Larsson
Donald Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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