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Al Jolson and Rudy Vallee

In the late 1920’s recordings made using a microphone, and motion pictures with sound, revolutionized mass entertainment. The Knott family record collection has examples of work by two early adopters of the new technologies.

Al Jolson was successful on Broadway, but he became a national sensation when he sang in the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer. His delivery was stilted and his themes saccharine, but audiences loved it. An example of his style from the Knott’s record collection is “Sonny Boy”:

This song was wildly popular at the time and has since been covered by artists ranging from Paul Robeson to Petula Clark.


Today if Rudy Vallee is remembered at all, it’s for being the guy who sang through a megaphone, but his teen idol status came from his sweet tenor voice on the radio. In the late 1920’s the improved fidelity of electronic recording meant he could sing softly with expressions that were previously impossible to record. His voice was a lot like the sound of his saxophone. On this recording, he even takes a part as if he were an instrumentalist:

Vallee was the first crooner on record. His revolutionary phrasing inspired the styling of Big Crosby and later Frank Sinatra.

Jolson and Vallee were both headliners in the early 1930’s but are barely a footnote today.


Al Jolson (1928)

“Sonny Boy”

Rudy Vallee and His Pennsylvanians (1929)

A: “Perhaps”