Gerald 'Al Jolson' Goulette in 1976

Gerald "Al Jolson" Goulette marches in the 1976 River-Cade parade in Sioux City. Goulette, who died in 2012, sang, tap-danced and strummed the ukulele at parades and downtown bars for more than 60 years.

Photo provided by George Lindblade

SIOUX CITY | To many Sioux Cityans, Al Jolson wasn't just the name of the entertainer who starred in "The Jazz Singer," the first motion picture "talkie."

Instead, Al Jolson was the pseudonym of Gerald Goulette, a one-of-a-kind street performer who sang, tap-danced and strummed the ukulele for more than 60 years.

Goulette was born to Charles and Lillian Goulette in Sioux City on Dec. 9, 1927, a few months after "The Jazz Singer" debuted.

A fixture at River-Cade parades and downtown Sioux City bars, Goulette was known for garish outfits and singing novelty tunes such as "Hello! Ma Baby!" and "Sioux City Sue."

When he died on Apr. 2, 2012, at the age of 84, he left behind many fans who never knew his real name.

"People knew him simply as 'Al Jolson,'" said Sandy Johnson, his landlady for more than 30 years. "I think he was OK with that."

Johnson remembered Goulette as someone who loved weaving tales of a show business past that was impossible to verify. She thought these stories may have been a way to obscure a troubled past.

He worked on the cleaning crew at the Armour & Co. and Swift meatpacking houses, she said.

Instead, Goulette preferred the world of performing, which he pursued with great abandon.

"Al walked a regular route," said former Buffalo Alice owner Mike Salviola. "Carrying his ukelele in a bag, he'd go from bar to bar and start entertaining."

Goulette's pay for a song and a dance? Pocket change and beer.

"Al became such a fixture that people expected to see him around," Salviola said. "When Al first walked into Buffalo Alice, I'd hear guys say, 'Hey, my dad told me about you,' and then eventually they'd say, Hey, my grandpa told me about you.'"

Johnson said Goulette "had a love for life."

Yet George Lindblade, a Sioux City filmmaker who profiled Goulette in the documentary, "High Times in Lower Fourth," said it was his unique personality that made him memorable.

"Though he could dance, Al could barely play the ukulele or sing a song," Lindblade said. "Al was weird enough that you couldn't make him up even if you tried."


Food and Lifestyles reporter

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