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Tucker, Sophie

TUCKER, SOPHIE

TUCKER, SOPHIE (née Kalish ; 1884–1966), vaudeville artiste. Tucker was taken as a baby from Russia to the United States. As a child in Hartford, Connecticut, she worked in her parents' kosher restaurant and rooming house, which catered to many show business professionals and stars of the Yiddish theater. She got her start in the profession by singing her heart out to the celebrated customers. Going to New York in 1906, she played the lesser vaudeville circuits, but by 1915 she was topping the bill at the Palace Theater. She toured frequently and presented her act in English and in Yiddish. Known as the "Last of the Red-Hot Mamas," she was described as "big, brassy, flamboyant, laughing and crying, if need be, so that audiences were swept up in an irresistible torrent of lush sentiment." Among her best-known songs were "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "M-O-T-H-E-R," and "I'm the Last of the Red-Hot Mamas." The audience favorite in the U.S. and Europe was "My Yiddishe Momma," written in 1925 by Jack Yellen. After Hitler came to power in Germany, it was decreed that her recordings of that song were to be destroyed, and it was forbidden to sell them. Tucker's signature song was "Some of These Days," written in 1910 by Shelton Brooks, to which she purchased the excusive rights to sing.

Tucker appeared on Broadway in Lulu's Husbands (1910); Earl Carroll's Vanities (1924); Leave It to Me (1938); and High Kickers (1941). She also appeared in several films, among them Honky Tonk (1929); Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937); Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937); The Heart of Show Business (1937); and Follow the Boys (1944). In the 1950s and 1960s she was a frequent guest singer on Ed Sullivan's tv variety show Toast of the Town.

The Sophie Tucker Foundation, which she established in 1945, distributed millions of dollars to various charities. In 1955 she endowed a theater arts chair at Brandeis University. She also set up two youth centers in Israel bearing her name – the Sophie Tucker Youth Center in Bet Shemesh and a youth center in kibbutz Be'eri in the Negev. In 1962 she sponsored the Sophie Tucker Forest near the Bet Shemesh amphitheater as well as funding many hospitals and homes for the aged.

Her autobiography, Some of These Days, appeared in 1945. The 1963 Broadway musical Sophie, written by Phillip Pruneau with music by Steve Allen, was based on the early years of Tucker's career.

bibliography:

M. Freedland, Sophie: The Sophie Tucker Story (1978); A. Fields, Sophie Tucker: First Lady of Show Business (2003).

[Lee Healey /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]

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