Superstars are always fascinating subjects for astrology.
And why not? What lifts one person out of the common mass of the rest of us, and elevates him or her to fame, achievement, and fortune?
Take singing. Who have been our superstar singers? I love music and I love singers, so looking astrologically at the lives of singers makes for my kind of fun. However, as we are looking at superstar singers, I need to make an important distinction: what makes a superstar is FAME. We have to distinguish between fame, and artistic achievement. Billie Holliday was a very great artist, but she was not a superstar. She wasn’t famous — enough.
Denying a singer superstar status is no insult. We aren’t talking about great artists, so much as cultural phenomena. Given that I’m choosing from very subjective criteria, and from my own even more fallible memory, who have been our superstar singers? Many singers have been candidates, most of which just fail to attain the status.
The only candidate for superstar singer we have right now is Justin Bieber (yes, I know, I know...). Just before him was Miley Cyrus. Failed candidates for superstar status are almost as fascinating as the ones who made it. Going backward in time in ragged leaps and bounds, these are my candidates for superstardom in singing: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Barbara Streisand, Elvis, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby. Maybe I’ve omitted a favorite of yours. Please don’t kill me.
Every one of these singers would make a fascinating astrological study. But I’m walking backward in time as a device to bring us to who I think was our very first superstar singer — Al Jolson.
If you don't know who Al Jolson was, and you aren’t at least 50 years old, I don’t blame you. He was born in 1886. He is part of the first generation that could ever even be considered a superstar. It has been said that World War I happened because the world powers had snagged up all of the unconquered territories on Earth, and got to the point where empires butted up against each other. By 1913, a year before the war broke out, humanity dimly realized that the world really had become ONE WORLD. Only in a world blanketed by empires and civilization could a superstar of any sort become truly World-Famous. Jolson made his first recording in December 22, 1911 — when Ronald Reagan was not even a year old.
In many ways, Al Jolson was a pioneer: he was the first openly Jewish entertainer in the United States, the first to entertain our troops in three wars, the first to have two films made of his life, the first to cut a long-playing record, and the first person to talk (and sing, of course) in the motion pictures. He starred in The Jazz Singer for Warner Brothers in 1927, a huge, history-making hit. I should mention that, in The Jazz Singer, only the musical numbers had synchronized sound — the rest of the picture was silent.
But also, like his fellow superstar in motion pictures, Charlie Chaplin, Al Jolson was also the last of a kind. Chaplin made what was essentially the last silent feature: Modern Times in 1936, nine years after The Jazz Singer made movies talk.
What made Jolson the last of his kind? He was the last stage or screen star to perform regularly in blackface.
Blackface on a performer today would make an audience wince — and they should. Blackface, as a show business convention, springs from the time when blacks had just ceased to be property, but were still regarded and treated as second-class — or third-class — citizens. In order to be allowed on stage and seen by white audiences of the time (roughly 1870 to 1920), black entertainers had to further darken their skin with either shoe polish or burnt cork, and rim their mouths with WHITE grease paint to EXAGGERATE their Black Other-ness, and (this is my personal opinion) keep the white audiences feeling secure in their position of superiority.
For about fifty years, between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War I, black performers not only had to exaggerate their black-ness, they also had to exaggerate what white society and white audiences thought were their natural character traits — which, of course, were all NEGATIVE character traits: stupidity, laziness, shiftlessness, dishonesty, mindless gaiety, meek servility. Blacks, as fully positive role-models, didn’t become common in entertainment until around 1970.
Anyone reading this, under the age of forty won’t understand — thankfully — what the world was like. But our nation’s past culture, from which blackface sprang as an acceptable convention, can still be seen if you troll backwards in the history books.
Bert Williams, the great comedian of the Ziegfield Follies alongside his colleagues W.C. Fields, Ed Wynn, Fanny Brice, and Will Rogers, performed in blackface his entire career, including in film. Even without having to blacken up, black entertainers had to endure the same cultural mindset. The great comedian Lincoln Perry adopted his famous screen-name, Stepin Fetchit. Still another great comedian, Willie Best, had the screen-name Sleep N’ Eat. When Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle opened on Broadway in 1921 with the first all-black musical, it was called Shuffle Along. Bill Robinson, who starred alongside Shirley Temple, and who, thankfully, did not have to blacken up for those roles, also starred on Broadway. Wonderful! But what was the title of the revue he starred in? The Blackbirds of 1928.
Can we see a clear cultural picture here? Black performers had to exaggerate the Other-ness of their own culture, and tacitly admit their inferiority to white audiences — or they would never have been allowed on stage at all.
Into this peculiar mix we have Mr. Jolson, a Russian-Jew, choosing to blacken his face to perform.
I’ve digressed into American History because I had to explain, to those too young to remember, the phenomenon of blackface in entertaining. I believe that understanding blackface is crucial to understanding our first superstar singer, and is equally crucial to rectifying his birth chart; for, believe it or not, until very recently, the day, month, and even year of Al Jolson’s birth has been uncertain, even to Jolson himself!
The following comes from the Astro-Data-Bank:
Jolson by Michael Freedland, 1972, pg. 2. When the birth actually occured, no one knows. It could have been any time between 1880-1888. It could have been January or July. In the Russian Pale of Settlement in the 1880’s, no one thought of birth certificates. Years later he was to decide that year was 1886 and the day May 26. He liked the idea of a spring birthday.
Research by the Al Jolson Society has traced his birth records in Russia. From these we now know that his birthday was recorded as May 28, not May 26, of 1886. However, until 1918, Russian used the Julian Calendar, not the current Gregorian one. We must add twelve days to correct for that discrepancy, bringing his Gregorian Calendar birthday to June 9, 1886.
Knowing that June 9, 1886 is the correct birth date, I am quite certain that Asa Yoelson, aka Al Jolson, was born between 3am and 5am, Local Apparent Time. I need only see the Chinese chart to be entirely convinced, and I’m quite sure that a birth time within that span will bear out in Hellenistic astrology, Jyotish, or frankly any astrology you can bring to the table.
Here are the resulting Chinese Four Pillars for Al Jolson:
3 1 6 3 丙 己 甲 丙 9 5 X 1 寅 亥 午 戍
First of all, why have I chosen a birth time between 3 and 5 in the morning? 3 - 5 am, Local Apparent Time is when the Lung acupuncture meridian is most active. The Lung Meridian is responsible for bringing the Tiger personality to the subject. The beneficial and healing emotions of the Tiger are: Humility and Modesty. The challenging and debilitating emotions of the Tiger are: Arrogance, Haughtiness, Prejudice, and False Pride. Do any of these emotions figure in the personality of Al Jolson? Damned right they do — in spades, and in both positive and negative ways.
Al Jolson was a very arrogant man. Even fervent admirers conceded that his was an enormous ego. Widely known as The World’s Greatest Entertainer, Jolson referred to himself as the World’s Greatest Entertainer! Invited to audition for the Ziegfield Follies, then the biggest show in vaudeville, Jolson declined the invitation, stating that he didn’t audition for anyone. Jolson had to have had a Tiger personality in him, and it had to have benefitted him greatly or he would never have gotten away with any of this.
Let’s look at the chart: what do we see? What strikes me is that Jolson had one of the trios of harmony, he had Dog, Horse, and Tiger all in the same chart. Just as Libra, Gemini, and Aquarius are signs in trine; Dog, Horse, and Tiger are Animals in trine. This meant that, whenever any two of those Animals in his chart interacted, the interaction generated and liberated Fire. Astrologically, Chinese Fire is NOT the same as Western Fire. The Greeks understood Fire to be a refining power that created pores in a substance, allowing for free passage. The Taoist Chinese understood Fire to be analogous to the season of Summer, when the chi is fully expanded and fully active, corresponding in the human soul as expression, emotion, and opinion. Was Al Jolson expressive, emotional, and opinionated? You betcha.
Just because a person has Fire in their Chinese chart does not mean that it benefits them! Queen Elizabeth II has two pieces of Fire prominently in her chart, and does not like them very much; as we all know, she is not particularly emotional or talkative. Both Dean Martin and Phyllis Diller had a love/hate relationship with their ample quantities of natal Fire: the Fire helped them indirectly, but hurt them directly. We can conclude that Jolson was helped greatly by his Fire because of the Heavenly Stem on top of his Day Pillar, which is Yin Earth. Fire FEEDS Earth, so Fire gave his life sweetness, and eased aside many of his obstacles in life.
Look at the Heavenly Stems on top of the Year, and Hour. Both of them are Yang Fire. Both Yin Fire and Yang Fire, as Heavenly Stems, want the spotlight. They desire the center stage. But if Yin Fire wants to TAKE center stage, instantly, Yang Fire wants to REMAIN the center of attention constantly — they want to BE the center stage. Jolson’s Yang Fire/Dog year and his Yang Fire/Tiger hour helped him do that. Al Jolson probably loved performing in front of an audience more than anyone else in modern recorded history. He loved performing more than Pete Rose loved playing baseball, more than Tammy Faye Bakker loved wearing mascara. If he met someone on the street, told them who he was, and asked if they wanted to hear him sing; if they said yes, he treated them to some song. Once, in the Internal Revenue Service, needing to pay taxes in person, he serenaded the office, assumedly creating the all-time record most-enjoyable visit to the I.R.S. Jolson was married four times. At the divorce proceedings for his first two wives both of them named the Audience as the Other Woman in his life.
Sounds like reason enough, doesn’t it? There’s one more: if you look at his Year, Month, and Day Animals, they are Dog, Horse, and Boar. Dog and Horse are great pals and combine together easily. Boar is disconnected from both Dog and Horse! What did that mean? It meant that, while Jolson’s Year and Month both have ample supplies of Fire, he could not be readily nourished by them. Think of it this way: what good is having a buffet table full of delicious food if nobody will allow you to sit down to eat? Yes, yes, you say, Since the food is MINE, I can always grab some with my bare hands and munch on the run, can’t I? Yes, that’s true, and that proves my point just as well. What does it mean, when everyone else can sit down graciously and have someone serve them all seven courses, while you have to run into the room and grab what food you can, spilling food on yourself and getting your already tatty clothes even more messy; and by the time you rush back into the room and avoid slipping and falling on the Jello salad you spilled on one of your earlier trips, the prime rib you wanted is gone and all the desserts have been taken? In a life like that, it doesn’t matter that you own the food: you hardly get to eat any.
The feature of disconnection in a Chinese chart is analogous to the doctrine of Aversion in Greek astrology: if a planet in your chart is in aversion to one of the houses it rules, that house and its significations suffer from having no support from its ruler.
However, do TIGER and Boar connect? Yes. The connection is a love/hate connection, but it’s a real connection.
Any Fire generated by either the Dog or Horse in his life — any Fire generated either in the General Public, or in the Family he grew up with, could not nourish him directly. As much Fire as the General Public and his family gave him HE WAS STILL STARVED FOR IT. All of the Fire from the Yang Fire/Dog year and the Yang Wood/Horse month had to be transferred or appreciated by his Yang Fire/Tiger hour and then given over to the Yin Earth/Boar day, which represents himself-to-himself!
If you cook huge, overflowing amounts of food, you will get adequately fed even if you can’t sit at the dinner table. Al Jolson had to be the center of attention more often than possibly anyone else in history, and he didn’t feel nourished enough by all the Fire that, by rights, was already his.
So having Tiger gave Al Jolson a colossal ego. Where did the Tiger benefit him?
Many writers, apologizing for Jolson’s blackface performances, would point out that, as a Jewish man, he would have had sympathy for the plight of another minority group being persecuted. I don’t deny that, but that’s not enough reason for me to nail his birthtime between 3 and 5am. Look at photographs of Jolson in blackface: in his earlier days, he didn’t settle just to darken his skin. He even adopted the nappy hair of the black man. Jolson made himself, as much as visually possible, into the image of a black man performing on stage:
Why would he do such a thing? Why did Jolson go to so much trouble to imitate a black performer? He first performed in blackface in 1904, and this apparently had a liberating effect on his performances. Why should it have done so? What is one of the nourishing emotions of the Tiger personality? Humility. Al Jolson needed to HUMBLE himself, so that he could access his Tiger personality, nourish himself with the Fire in the rest of his chart, and glue the rest of his disconnected chart — and life — together. Mine is not a politically-correct conclusion, but it is still true that to take on the role of a black person, in today’s society, REMAINS a humbling experience. Even with a black man as the President of the United States. How much more humbling would it be for the eighteen-year-old Asa Yoelson to don the blackened face to go on stage, back in 1904?
Ko Hashiguchi 425-919-2169 Ko@asianastro.com