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Jazz singer Al Jolson starred on Modesto screen
Back in the '30s, it was a practice for our farming family to go into Modesto to shop on Tenth Street. Not would we buy our groceries there but my mother loved to go into department stores there as well as Montgomery Ward store on Eleventh Street. I would tag along with my parents and sister Rachel as they did shopped.

My father liked to go into Willie Electric Company on I Street where he would visit with Mr. Willie and his employees about electric appliances and radios. I believe that he bought our first radio at this place of business.

Gould's Restaurant was nearby and both establishments were between Ninth and Tenth streets near the alley and the Modesto reading, "Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health."

There was also the downtown theaters. Dad and I would have spare time and he would ask if I would like to go to a motion picture. I always enjoyed movies and would inquire if the picture was a "talkie," as I couldn't read the sub-titles being so young and all. At that time the change from the old silent movies was growing rapidly. We would attend a matinee in one of the theaters on Tenth Street - The Lyric or the old Modesto Theater - until it was time to meet my mother and sister at The Peoples Cash Store near the Greyhound Bus Depot and Modesto Fire Department on G Street. Then we would return to our little farm and do the evening chores.

All of this came to my memory recently when I watched an old movie on TV named "The Jazz Singer," starring Al Jolson. It was produced by Warner Brothers in 1927 with sound by Pathe. This milestone movie is still considered the first of sound movies and was only partially in sound and had a few sub-titles, but it hastened "talkies." The story line was about a little known singer making it to the top of his profession and finally singing in a New York Broadway show during the roaring 20s and the jazz era. By today's standards this movie is very crude and unrefined, but the singing ability of the great Al Jolson stands out in its excellence. His unusual singing voice and delivery were memorable. Some of the songs he sang were "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye," "California Here I Come," and in black face, "Mamie." Jolson is known yet today as "the World's Greatest Entertainer"!

As a young child I never saw this picture for in our family with Christian values the word "jazz" meant something evil and wicked. Also taboo were the free spiritedness of what was known as the Roaring 20's, prohibition, bootleggers, jazz music, and dance halls.

However, my modern dictionary lists jazz as a rhythmic, syncopated, modern music! My parents and family from the old school of learning and beliefs no doubt never saw this definition in the dictionary of their day. Over the many years my thinking has changed a bit about this!

Jolson stands out as one of the greatest of the jazz and Roaring '20s era! At least two modern movies have been made about his life and times in the spotlight. He even lived long enough to perform and entertain our men in uniform during the USO Shows in World War ll overseas and at home. To me, he was one of the best singers of all time. He was the Jazz Singer, who would quip to his audience, "You ain't heard nothin' yet!"

Bill Noble may be reached via email at