Sunday, May 6, 2012

FORGOTTEN ONES: NORMAN BROOKS

The voice of Al Jolson was one of the most unique voices ever recorded. When he died in 1950, the entertainment industry lost a great talent. Even though the showmanship and the charisma of Jolson has never been duplicated, there have been singers that sound a lot like Al Jolson. One such entertainer that gained fame in the 1950s and 1960s was Norman Brooks.

Born in Montreal, Canada to Lebanese parents on August 19, 1926 Brooks possessed a voice naturally similar to that of Al Jolson. Brooks began his career in his late teens, singing in the Jolson style in Montreal nightclubs, often in duet with his sister Annie (who as Anne Brooks later sang in Canadian and US nightclubs). During his career he has returned frequently to Jolson routines, but he also has sung in a more personal style. By the early 1950s he had moved from clubs to theatres - eg, the Seville in Montreal and the Casino Theatre in Toronto. He made two 78s for Canadian Victor at this time.

In 1953 he went to New York where he appeared in nightclubs and recorded 'Hello Sunshine,' a substantial hit that year for Zodiac, a label established expressly for Brooks. He was a popular nightclub and TV performer in the USA during the 1950s and 1960s, appearing, for example, for 44 weeks 1959-60 at The Sands Hotel, Las Vegas. He also performed frequently in Canadian nightclubs and on CBC TV, and was host for CTV's 'Musical Showcase' in 1966. He appeared in 1975 on Broadway in The Magic of Jolson and subsequently sang and played piano in New York nightclubs and continued to tour. He performed in 1979 at PDA.


Brooks' other recordings include singles for Zodiac and for RCA's 'X' label, LPs of Jolson material for Spin-O-Rama, Coronet, Diplomat, and Sutton, and LPs of pop songs - some his own - for Verve, Sure, Promenade and Venus (see Kinkle's Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz for details). Brooks played Jolson in the The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956) and had dramatic roles in The Block (1963) and Ocean's Eleven (1965).

Norman Brooks was showcased in four motion pictures. In the 1956 feature film "The Best Things In Life Are Free" he played Jolson and sang "Sonny Boy." A second filmsaw Norman on stage singing " I'm Gonna Live Til I Die " with sister Ann in the popular best ever casino heist in the 1960 film "Ocean's Eleven." Then audiences heard Norman singing "I'm Sittin' On Top Of The World" so remarkably in the 1983 Woody Allen film "Zelig" that it hard to distinguish Norman's rendition to that of "Jolie" himself. Norman also played "Brand" a non vocal role, in the 1964 Tony Orlando film "The Block."

In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Jolson style of entertainment fell out of style, Brooks became another forgotten relic of a bygone era. Lung problems forced him to pretty much retire. He died on September 14, 2006 at the age of 78. Not only was another voice of Jolson silenced then, but Norman Brooks was a great talent all his own...

5 comments:

  1. I was transferred to Montreal in 1959 and came across his album "Give My Regards to Broadway in a department store on St. Catherine Street. Having bought it, I was delighted with the collection moving songs on the disk. The songs were all transferred to tape using one of my professional Ampexes many, many moons ago and in more recent times was recorded digitally onto one of my computers. I still have the old vinyl version and played it recently. Still sounds great.

    February 14, 2013

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    1. hi i also have lots of lp's including all the ones he recorded for the philadelphia mummers.i saw him in 1950 at the Casino in Toronto i think the show was called Shades Of Al Jolson.

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  2. He was indeed a great talent....with a warmth and likability on stage that few have. Norman always gave his best to an audience and never showed any resentment towards the Jolson songs they wanted to hear. But his rendition of say "Aniversary Song", "Autumn Leaves"(in French) and "For All We know" just to name a few were done leaving the audience thinking that no one could have done them better than Norman Brooks.

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  3. My trio backed up Norman on two occasions here in Rochester at Val's Lounge.
    Always a favorite here and a big draw.

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  4. NORMAN'S # 1 FAN HERE...I AM LOOKING FOR VENUS VS.3043 RECORDED IN OCTOBER 1963. IT WAS A CANADIAN RELEASE. TWO TITLES ARE " NOTRE ANNIVERSAIRE " AND " DANS LA VALLE. "

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