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Norman Brooks

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B: August 19, 1928 in Montréal, Québec
D: September 14, 2006 in Montréal, Québec

Norman Books was a singer, songwriter, pianist and occasionally an actor. Born to Lebanese parents, Irene and Michael Arie, he began life as Norman Joseph Arie and he began his singing career in his late teens. When he sang, Brooks sounded so much like Al Jolson, the rakish U.S. blackface comedian and singer who died in 1950, that he was able to build a highly successful career as a Jolson tribute singer. His younger sister Annie, a cabaret singer, launched her brother’s career in 1948 when she invited him up from the audience to do a duet. Their act together proved to be instantly popular. Norman Arie then entered a U.S. talent competition, Opportunity Knocks, won it, and changed his name to Brooks. The legendary Kate Smith invited him to sing on her NBC television show, and his career took off. In the early 1950s he had moved from clubs to theatres performing on stage at such large and well known venues as the Seville in Montreal and the Casino Theatre in Toronto. He recorded for Canadian Victor, which released two 78 rpm records. In 1953 he was singing in New York nightclubs and also recorded a song titled Hello Sunshine Goodbye Rain, which was a hit that year. He remained a popular nightclub and TV performer in the USA during the 1950s and 1960s, and long before Celine Dion, Brooks, then billed as The Voice That Lives Again, became the first Quebec-born entertainer to play Las Vegas, selling out the Copa Room at The Sands Hotel and Casino for 44 weeks in 1959. At the peak of his career, he was earning $5,000 a week, plus royalties from his recordings. He also appeared in four motion pictures. In the 1956 feature The Best Things In Life Are Free he played the role of Jolson and sang the Jolson hit, Sonny Boy. In the 1960 film Ocean`s Eleven, Brooks appeared on stage with his sister Ann, who had her own successful singing career, singing the song I’m Gonna Live Til I Die. He wasn’t seen but he was heard singing the Jolson song I’m Sittin’ On Top Of The World for the 1983 Woody Allen film Zelig. His last film appearance was a non-singing role in the 1964 Tony Orlando film The Block. He appeared in 1975 on Broadway in The Magic of Jolson and continued to sing and play piano in New York nightclubs and continued to tour, but as musical tastes and trends moved on, Brooks was largely forgotten. Norman Brooks retired due to lung problems and returned to Montreal where in died following a long illness at that city’s Jean Talon Hospital. He was 78.

Also see Ruby Keeler.

Features & TV Movies:
VR indicates Direct-to-Video Release

Meet Danny Wilson (1951)
The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956)

Ocean’s Eleven (1960)
The Block (1964

TV Series – Cast:
Musical Showcase (1966, host)

Oceans Eleven, movie, poster,