The birth of sound movies,
Yom Kippur and Kol Nidre

Al Jolson portrayed a singing Rabbi’s son in The Jazz Singer

By Byron Toben

October 4, 2022

Movies changed forever in 1927 when the first full-length sound movie, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson debuted. Jolson, born Asa Yoelson to Rabbi/Cantor Moses Rueben Yoelson, who had emigrated to the USA from Lithuania, became enchanted with the free-flowing black music of the day and, often wearing black face, became the highest-paid entertainer of the times.

His fans included many black musicians who looked upon him as opening doors for them as well as established white singers like Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond, Eddie Fisher and Judy Garland.

The song Kol Nidre, composed by Max Bruch in 1898, had become the touchstone of the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). In the movie, as in real life, the Jazz singer returns home from his largely secular life to take the place of his dying father in delivering that song.

Although he did not invent movie sound, ex-Westmounter Douglas Shearer followed his mother and two younger actor sisters, Norma and Athole, to Hollywood where he perfected the elimination of background noise from the soundtrack (as well as becoming the roar of the MGM lion).

The movie The Jazz Singer was produced by Warner Brothers and became its first big hit.

Feature image: scene from The Jazz Singer, courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures

Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.

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