Sophie Tucker

Sophie Tucker (13 January, 1884 - 9 February, 1966) was a singer and comedian, one of the most popular United States entertainers of the first third of the 20th century.

Tucker was born as Sophia Kalish in Russia; her family immigrated to the United States when she was an infant and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1903 she was briefly married to Louis Tuck; from which she decided to change her name to "Tucker".


Sophie Tucker, 1917
Tucker played piano and sang in Burlesque and Vaudeville, at first usually in blackface. She later said that this was at the insistence of theater managers, who said she was "too fat and ugly" to be accepted by the audience in any other context. Sophie Tucker made a name for herself in a style that was known at the time as a "Coon Shouter", performing African American influenced songs. Not content with performing in the simple Minstrel show traditions, she hired some of the best African American singers of the time to give her lessons and hired African American composers to write songs for her act.

At a 1908 Vaudeville appearance her luggage including her makeup-kit was stolen shortly before the show, and Tucker hastily went on stage with no makeup, and to the surprise of the theater manager was a bigger hit with the audience than she had been in blackface. Tucker never wore blackface again, although she continued getting much of her material from African American writers and singing in a ragtime, then later blues influenced style. Tucker for a time was billed as "The Ragtime Mary Garden", a reference to a famous operatic soprano of the era.

Sophie Tucker made her first appearance in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1909.

She made the first of her several recordings of "Some of These Days" in 1911 for Edison Records. The tune, written by Shelton Brooks, became a hit and Tucker's theme song, and later was the title of her autobiography, published in 1945.

In 1921 Tucker hired pianist Ted Shapiro as her accompanist and musical director; Shapiro would remain with Tucker the rest of her career.

Tucker remained a popular singer through the 1920s. She hired stars such as Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters to give her lessons.

Sophie Tucker made the first of her many movie appearances in the 1929 sound picture "Honky Tonk".

In the 1930s she brought elements of nostalgia for the early years of 20th century into her show. She was billed as "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas". Her hearty sexual appetite was a frequent subject of her songs, unusual for female performers of the era.

In addition to her performing, Sophie Tucker was active in efforts to unionize professional actors, and was elected president of the American Federation of Actors in 1938.

In the 1950s and early 1960s she made television appearances on the popular Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show.

She continued performing in the USA and the UK until shortly before her death. Sophie Tucker died of lung cancer and was interred at Emanuel Cemetery, Wethersfield, Middlesex County, Connecticut.

Sophie Tucker's comic style influenced such later entertainers as Bette Midler, Joan Rivers, and Roseanne.

Quotes

  • "I've been rich and I've been poor; Believe me, honey, rich is better."

External links


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