Tucker in 1930
January 13, 1886
|Died||February 9, 1966 80) (aged|
Manhattan, New York City
|Other names||Sophie Tuck, Sophie Abuza|
|Occupation|| Singer |
|Spouse(s)||Louis Tuck (1903–1913) |
Frank Westphal (1917–1920)
Al Lackey (1928–1934)
Sophie Tucker (born Sofia Kalish; January 13, 1886– February 9, 1966) was a Ukrainian-born American singer, comedian, actress, and radio personality. Known for her powerful delivery of comical and risqué songs, she was one of the most popular entertainers in America during the first half of the 20th century. She was widely known by the superlative nickname "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas".
Tucker was born Sofia Kalish (in Ukrainian, Софiя «Соня» Калиш) in 1886 to a Jewish familyin Tulchyn, Podolia Governorate, Ukraine, now Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine. (Sonya is a pet name for Sofia in both Russian and Ukrainian, as well as for Sofya, the Yiddish form of the name Sophia.) They arrived in Boston on September 26, 1887. The family adopted the surname Abuza before immigrating, her father fearing repercussions for having deserted the Russian military. The family lived in Boston's North End for eight years before settling in Hartford, Connecticut, and opening a restaurant.
At a young age, she began singing at her parents' restaurant for tips. [ citation needed ]Between taking orders and serving customers, Tucker recalled: "[I] would stand up in the narrow space by the door and sing with all the drama I could put into it. At the end of the last chorus, between me and the onions there wasn't a dry eye in the place."
In 1903, around the age of 17, Tucker eloped with Louis Tuck, a beer cart driver, from whom she would later derive her professional surname. When she returned home, her parents arranged an Orthodox wedding for the couple. In 1905, she gave birth to a son, Albert.However, shortly after Albert was born, the couple separated and Tucker left the baby with her family to move to New York.
After she left her husband, Willie Howard gave Tucker a letter of recommendation to Harold Von Tilzer,a composer and theatrical producer in New York. When it failed to bring her work, Tucker found jobs in cafés and beer gardens, singing for food and tips from the customers. She sent most of what she made back home to Connecticut to support her son and family.
In 1907, Tucker made her first theater appearance, singing at an amateur night in a vaudeville establishment.It was here her producers thought that the crowd would tease her for being "so big and ugly." Tucker also began integrating "fat girl" humor, which became a common thread in her acts. Her songs included "I Don't Want to Get Thin" and "Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, But Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love."
In 1909, Tucker performed with the Ziegfeld Follies. Though she was a hit, the other female stars refused to share the spotlight with her, and the company was forced to let her go. This caught the attention of William Morris, a theater owner and future founder of the William Morris Agency, which would become one of the largest and most powerful talent agencies of the era. Two years later, Tucker released "Some of These Days" on Edison Records, written by Shelton Brooks. The title of the song was later used as the title of Tucker's 1945 biography.
In 1921, Tucker hired pianist and songwriter Ted Shapiro as her accompanist and musical director, a position he would keep throughout her career. Besides writing a number of songs for her, Shapiro became part of her stage act, playing piano on stage while she sang, and exchanging banter and wisecracks with her in between numbers. Tucker remained a popular singer through the 1920s and became friends with stars such as Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters, who introduced her to jazz. Tucker learned from these talented women and became one of the first performers to introduce jazz to white vaudeville audiences.[ citation needed ]
In 1925, Jack Yellen wrote one of her most famous songs, "My Yiddishe Momme". The song was performed in large American cities where there were sizable Jewish audiences. Tucker explained, "Even though I loved the song and it was a sensational hit every time I sang it, I was always careful to use it only when I knew the majority of the house would understand Yiddish. However, you didn't have to be a Jew to be moved by My Yiddishe Momme." During the Hitler regime, the song was banned by the German government for evoking Jewish culture.
By the 1920s, Tucker's success had spread to Europe, and she began a tour of England, performing for King George V and Queen Mary at the London Palladium in 1926. Tucker re-released her hit song "Some of These Days", backed by Ted Lewis and his band, which stayed at the number 1 position of the charts for five weeks beginning November 23, 1926.It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
Tucker was strongly affected by the decline of vaudeville. Speaking about performing in the final show at E. F. Albee's Palace in New York City, she remarked, "Everyone knew the theater was to be closed down, and a landmark in show business would be gone. That feeling got into the acts. The whole place, even the performers, stank of decay. I seemed to smell it. It challenged me. I was determined to give the audience the idea: why brood over yesterday? We have tomorrow. As I sang I could feel the atmosphere change. The gloom began to lift, the spirit which formerly filled the Palace and which made it famous among vaudeville houses the world over came back. That's what an entertainer can do."
In 1929, she made her first movie appearance, in the sound picture Honky Tonk . During the 1930s, Tucker brought elements of nostalgia for the early years of the 20th century into her show. She was billed as "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas", as her hearty sexual appetite was a frequent subject of her songs, unusual for female performers of the day after the decline of vaudeville.
The cartoon The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos caricatures Tucker as "Sophie Turkey".
In 1938, Tucker was elected president of the American Federation of Actors, an early actors' trade union.Originally formed for vaudeville and circus performers, the union expanded to include nightclub performers and was chartered as a branch of the Associated Actors and Artistes.
In 1939, the union was disbanded by the American Federation of Labor (AFL) for financial mismanagement. However, Tucker was not implicated in the proceedings. The AFL later issued a charter for the succeeding American Guild of Variety Artists, which remains active.
In 1938–1939 she had her own radio show, The Roi Tan Program with Sophie Tucker, broadcast on CBS for 15 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She made numerous guest appearances on such programs as The Andrews Sisters and The Radio Hall of Fame . In the 1950s and early 1960s Tucker, "The First Lady of Show Business", made frequent television appearances on many popular variety and talk shows of the day such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show . She remained popular abroad, performing for fanatical crowds in the music halls of London that were even attended by King George V. On April 13, 1963, a Broadway musical called "Sophie", based on her early life up until 1922, opened with Libi Staiger as the lead. It closed after eight performances.
Tucker continued to perform for the rest of her life. In 1962, she performed in the Royal Variety Performance, which was also broadcast on the BBC. She appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on October 3, 1965. For the color broadcast, her last television appearance, she performed "Give My Regards to Broadway", "Louise", and her signature song, "Some Of These Days".
Tucker was married three times. Her first marriage was to Louis Tuck, a beer cart driver, with whom she eloped in 1903. The marriage produced Tucker's only child, Albert. In 1906 the couple separated, and Tucker left Albert with her family, supporting them with money from her singing jobs in New York.They were divorced in May 1913. Albert was raised by his maternal aunt, Annie. Annie and Sophie had a close relationship and kept in touch with weekly letters.
Her second marriage, to Frank Westphal (1917–20), her accompanist, and her third marriage, to Al Lackey (1928–34), her manager, both ended in divorce and produced no children.She blamed the failure of her marriages on the fact that she had been too adjusted to economic independence, saying, "Once you start carrying your own suitcase, paying your own bills, running your own show, you've done something to yourself that makes you one of those women men like to call 'a pal' and 'a good sport,' the kind of woman they tell their troubles to. But you've cut yourself off from the orchids and the diamond bracelets, except those you buy yourself."
Tucker died of lung cancer and kidney failure on February 9, 1966, aged 80, in New York City. She had continued working until the months before her death, playing shows at the Latin Quarter just weeks before. She is buried in Emanuel Cemetery, in Wethersfield, Connecticut, her home state.
This section relies largely or entirely on a single source . (May 2016)
Tucker's comic and singing styles are credited with influencing later female entertainers including Mae West, Rusty Warren, Carol Channing, Totie Fields, Joan Rivers, Roseanne Barr, Ethel Merman, "Mama" Cass Elliot of The Mamas & the Papas, and most notably Bette Midler, who has included "Soph" as one of her many stage characters. She also influenced Miami-based radio and television host-cum-singer Peppy Fields, sister of noted pianist Irving Fields, whom Variety and Billboard magazines called the "Sophie Tucker of Miami".[ citation needed ]
Probably the greatest influence on Sophie's later song delivery was Clarice Vance (1870–1961). They appeared many times on the same vaudeville bill. Sophie made her first recordings in 1910, and Clarice made her final records in 1909. Clarice had perfected and was known for her subtle narrative talk-singing style that Sophie later used to her advantage when her vocal range became increasingly limited. At the time that Clarice Vance was using the narrative style it was unique to her among women entertainers.
Tucker is briefly mentioned in the lyrics of the song "Roxie" from the musical Chicago ("And Sophie Tucker'll shit I know/To see her name get billed below/Foxy Roxie Hart") and was cited as the main influence for the character Matron "Mama" Morton.
A popular music revue, Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, developed by Florida Studio Theatre (FST), in Sarasota, celebrates Tucker's brassy and bawdy behavior, songs, and persona. Developed in-house by artistic director Richard Hopkins in 2000, it has enjoyed several productions across the country, including theatres in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, and Toronto. Kathy Halenda, who originated the role of Tucker in the production, returned to FST for a limited engagement of The Last of the Red Hot Mamas in March 2012.
William Gazecki produced a 2014 film documentary, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker.
On November 4, 1963, Beatle Paul McCartney introduced the song "Till There Was You" as having been recorded "by our favorite American group, Sophie Tucker."
Chicago is a 2002 American musical black comedy crime film based on the 1975 stage musical of the same name. It explores the themes of celebrity, scandal, and corruption in Chicago during the Jazz Age. The film stars Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere. Chicago centers on Roxie Hart (Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) two murderesses who find themselves in jail together awaiting trial in 1920s Chicago. Roxie, a housewife, and Velma, a vaudevillian, fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows. The film marks the theatrical directorial debut of Rob Marshall, who also choreographed the film, and was adapted by screenwriter Bill Condon, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. Critically lauded, Chicago won six Academy Awards in 2003, including Best Picture, the first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968.
Chicago is an American musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. Set in Chicago in the jazz age, the musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, about actual criminals and the crimes on which she reported. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the "celebrity criminal".
Trixie Smith was an American blues singer, recording artist, vaudeville entertainer, and actress. She made four dozen recordings.
Milton Ager was an American composer, regarded as one of the top songwriters of the 1920s and 1930s. His most lasting compositions include "Ain't She Sweet?” and “Happy Days Are Here Again”.
Jack Selig Yellen was an American lyricist and screenwriter. He is best remembered for writing the lyrics to the songs "Happy Days Are Here Again", which was used by Franklin Roosevelt as the theme song for his successful 1932 presidential campaign, and "Ain't She Sweet", a Tin Pan Alley standard.
Eva Tanguay was a Canadian singer and entertainer who billed herself as "the girl who made vaudeville famous". She was known as "The Queen of Vaudeville" during the height of her popularity from the early 1900s until the early 1920s. Tanguay also appeared in films, and was the first performer to achieve national mass-media celebrity, with publicists and newspapers covering her tours from coast-to-coast, out-earning the likes of contemporaries Enrico Caruso and Harry Houdini at one time, and being described by Edward Bernays, "the father of public relations", as "our first symbol of emergence from the Victorian age."
Knowles Fred Rose was an American musician, Hall of Fame songwriter, and music publishing executive.
Barbara Tucker, is a house and soul singer, songwriter and choreographer born in Brooklyn, New York, US. Tucker had six #1 hits on the US Hot Dance Club Songs chart in the 1990s and into the 2000s, and several hits in the UK.
Belle Baker was an American singer and actress. Popular throughout the 1910s and 1920s, Baker introduced a number of ragtime and torch songs including Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and "My Yiddishe Mama". She performed in the Ziegfeld Follies and introduced a number of Irving Berlin's songs. An early adapter to radio, Baker hosted her own radio show during the 1930s. Eddie Cantor called her “Dinah Shore, Patti Page, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland all rolled into one.”
Follow the Boys also known as Three Cheers for the Boys is a 1944 musical film made by Universal Pictures during World War II as an all-star cast morale booster to entertain the troops abroad and the civilians at home. The film was directed by A. Edward "Eddie" Sutherland and produced by Charles K. Feldman. The movie stars George Raft and Vera Zorina and features Grace McDonald, Charles Grapewin, Regis Toomey and George Macready. At one point in the film, Orson Welles saws Marlene Dietrich in half during a magic show. W.C. Fields, in his first movie since 1941, performs a classic pool playing presentation he first developed in vaudeville four decades earlier in 1903.
Blossom Seeley was an American singer, dancer, and actress.
"My Yiddishe Momme" is a song written by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack (music), first recorded by Willie Howard, and was made famous in Vaudeville by Belle Baker and by Sophie Tucker, and later by the Barry Sisters. Sophie Tucker began singing "My Yiddishe Momme" in 1925, after the death of her own mother. She later dedicated her autobiography Some of These Days to Yellen, "A grand song writer, and a grander friend". Sophie Tucker made 'Mama' a top 5 U.S. hit in 1928, English on one side and Yiddish on the B-side. Leo Fuld combined both in one track and made it a hit in the rest of the world."
Roxanne "Roxie" Hart is a fictional character. She is the main character of the 1926 play Chicago and its various remakes and derivatives.
”Hard Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah” is a popular song with words by Jack Yellen, Bob Bigelow, and Charles Bates, and music by Milton Ager. The song was published in June 1924 by Ager, Yellen & Bornstein, Inc., New York. “Hard Hearted Hannah” tells in humorous fashion the story of a "vamp" or femme fatale from Savannah, Georgia "the meanest gal in town." Hannah is "a gal who loves to see men suffer."
Honky Tonk is a 1929 American Pre-Code musical film starring Sophie Tucker in her film debut. The film was a flop when released and is now lost, although the Vitaphone soundtrack for the film and for the trailer still exists. Tucker sings a number of songs in the movie, including her theme song "Some of These Days", and "I'm the Last of the Red Hot Mamas", from which she took her billing as "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas".
Velma Kelly is one of the main characters in the successful 1975 Broadway musical Chicago.
Connie Sawyer was an American stage, film, and television actress, affectionately nicknamed "The Clown Princess of Comedy". She had over 140 film and television credits to her name, but was best known for her appearances in Pineapple Express, Dumb and Dumber, and When Harry Met Sally.... At the time of her death at age 105, she was the oldest working actress in Hollywood, with a career spanning an impressive 85 years, and was the oldest member of the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Nan Halperin was a Russian immigrant to the USA who became a well-known singing comedian. She played in vaudeville at an early age, and later starred in musical comedies on Broadway such as Little Jessie James (1923).
Lillyn Brown, sometimes credited as Lillyan Brown, was an American singer, vaudeville entertainer and teacher who claimed to have been "the first professional vocalist to sing the blues in front of the public", in 1908. She was billed as "The Kate Smith of Harlem" and "The Original Gay 90's Gal".
Mae Barnes was an American jazz singer, dancer and comic entertainer. She was responsible for introducing the Charleston dance to Broadway in the 1924 revue Runnin' Wild. After her career as a dancer ended, she became a successful nightclub singer and recording artist.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sophie Tucker .|