Sophie Tucker, 1886 - 1966

portrait of Sophie Tucker

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Born: 13 January 1886, Tulchyn, Ukraine, Russian Empire
Died: 9 February 1966, New York City

Born Sonya Kalish, her father was on the run from the tsar's army, the family fled to America and settled at Hartford, Connecticut where they operated a kosher diner and rooming house. Their offerings attracted a large number of vaudevillians and Sonya learned it was better money and easier work to sing to the customers than to wash their dishes. She eloped with Louis Tuck in 1903 but by the time their son was born she decided he didn't work hard enough and sent him on his way. Once she had saved enough money to leave her son with family, she went to New York to start her own vaudeville career in 1906. A club manager declared her "too fat and ugly" to appear as herself so she was presented in black face as a "coon shouter", belting out ragtime, blues, and other Black-influenced music. Arriving at an engagement at Boston while her trunk was delayed, she went on stage in her own clothes and face and was even more of a hit, thus was born "Sophie Tucker, the Last of the Red-Hot Mamas". She was on stage for the last performance at "The Palace" as the vaudeville era was ending, she worked in radio, films, and musical theatre without great success, after WW II she turned to nightclubs and thrived, working until about two weeks before her death from a lung problem and renal failure. To provide variety in her performance she put her own composer on salary to give her a great repertory of the bawdy, suggestive songs that were her trademark, and she joked that she spent half her fees on costumes. Over the six decades of her career she gave away over four million dollars to a range of charities in the US and Israel. The teamster's union was on strike when Tucker died but the hearse drivers put down their picket signs for her funeral procession.

Biography from Wikipedia and Jewish Women's Archive

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