“The Jazz Singer”: Hollywood’s First Words

Poster for 1927's "The Jazz Singer." (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Poster for 1927’s “The Jazz Singer.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1927, “The Jazz Singer,” the first feature-length film with synchronized sound debuted.

Here are some things you may not have known about it.

The film stars Al Jolson as Jakie Rabinowitz, the son of a cantor, a singer who leads prayers during Jewish worship services.

He runs away from home at the age of 13 to become a jazz singer, over the objections of his father. Later, Rabinowitz, who has changed his name to Jack Robin, must decide whether to make his Broadway debut, or fill in as cantor on Yom Kippur for his father, who is dying. The character of Jack Robin performs in blackface in his stage act.

If the story seems familiar, it’s because it has been parodied many times, perhaps most famously in a 1991 episode of “The Simpsons” called “Like Father, Like Clown,” centering on Krusty the Clown’s relationship with his father.

Earlier films had featured synchronized instrumental scores and sound effects. “The Jazz Singer” featured those as well, but also had singing and speaking portions.

The first spoken words in the film come about 17 and a half minutes into the movie. In total there’s a little more than two minutes of dialogue in the entire film.

“The Jazz Singer” was ruled to be ineligible for the first Academy Awards because it was seen as unfair to the silent films under consideration.

The American Film Institute ranked “The Jazz Singer” as the 90th best film of the 20th Century.

Our question: What movie won the first Academy Award for best picture?


Today is Teachers’ Day in Sri Lanka. It’s also National Depression Screening Day, National German-American Day, and National Noodle Day.

It’s the birthday of singer Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, who was born in 1820; architect Le Corbusier, who was born in 1887; and actress Carole Lombard, who was born in 1908.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1966, the top song in the U.S. was “Cherish” by The Association.

The No. 1 movie was “The Bible: In the Beginning,” while the novel “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

Who originally coined the phrase “shot heard ’round the world” in 1837?


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