(geb. Sonya Kalish, verh. Tuck)
(née Sonya Kalish, married Tuck)
born on 13 January 1884 in Russia during the journey from Tulchyn, Ukraine, to the USA
died on 9 February 1966 in New York, NY
US-American Entertainer and Jazz Singer
50th anniversary of death on 9 February 2016
Sophie Tucker, famous for her powerful voice and suggestive stage presence, was one of the most popular vaudeville entertainers in the US from her New York début in 1906 on. She developed a unique personal style with her program of risqué songs and jokes, ragtime, jazz and sentimental ballads. Tucker’s own career is the best evidence for her conviction that hard work and connections lead to success.
The daughter of Jewish immigrants was born in Russia during her mother’s journey to join her husband to America. Sophie grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, where she helped out in her parents’ restaurant and sang for tips. Even as a child she dreamed of a different, grander life – as a star. In 1903 she married Louis Tuck, so that she “wouldn’t have to work so hard” and might have “more fun.” But the marriage didn’t last, and Sophie returned to her parents with her son Bert. Subsequent marriages in 1914 and 1928 also ended in divorce.
After separating she was more determined than ever to become a successful entertainer. In 1906 she left Bert with her parents, changed her name to Tucker and headed for New York to try her luck in show business. A theater manager told her she was too fat and ugly for more serious roles, so she performed, albeit very reluctantly, in blackface. During one of her tours around the country her suitcase was lost and she had to go on stage without her makeup. It marked the real beginning of her career.
As “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas” Sophie Tucker was proud of carrying her audiences away over and over again and of serving up her program each time with fresh enthusiasm, although she had performed it thousands of times already. As she reports in her autobiography Some of These Days (also the title of her trade-mark song), she won her audiences over above all with her humor and her quick-witted repartee.
Tucker’s first England tour in 1922 was a great success; the audience couldn’t get enough of her. In 1934 she even performed for the British King and Queen. When sound film threatened to replace vaudeville in the 1930’s Tucker first relied on her great popularity in England, then added film, radio and even television to her roster of venues. She continued performing till the end of her life, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show just months before her death.
(Text from 1990, trans. Joey Horsley 2016)
Author: Katherine E. Horsley
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. Sophie Tucker - Some of These Days (1945)
Literature & Sources
Notable American Women: The Modern Period. 1980. Hg. Barbara Sicherman, Carol Hurd Green, Irene Kantrov & Harriet Walker. Cambridge, MA; London. The Belknap Press of Harvard UP.
Tucker, Sophie. 1945. Some of these days: An Autobiography. New York. Doubleday.
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