Sophie Tucker records signature song
Sophie Tucker, the self-proclaimed "Last of the Red Hot Mamas," was born on January 13, 1884. As a young woman, Tucker sang in her parents' diner in Hartford, Connecticut, which catered to many show business professionals. In her early twenties, she moved to New York, where she sang in cafés until she broke into vaudeville in 1907. Although her producers originally insisted that she sing in blackface, she soon proved that she could entrance audiences without the caricatured "black" Southern persona they had constructed for her.
Tucker made her mark with a humorous sexiness, defying stereotypes of size, age, and Jewish women's sexuality. Though she claimed that she had "never sung a single song in my whole life on purpose to shock anyone," songs like "I May Be Getting Older Every Day (But Younger Every Night)" challenged prevailing codes of ethnic, gender, and class-based morality.
Although crowds across the U.S. and Europe loved Tucker's frank, humorous style, her most famous songs were probably the more sentimental "Some of These Days" and "My Yiddishe Momme." African-American composer Shelton Brooks wrote "Some of These Days" for Tucker in 1910, and it became her signature song. Toward the end of her career, she estimated that she had sung it over 45,000 times. On March 2, 1911, she recorded it on a 4-minute cylinder; later she used its title for the title of her autobiography. "My Yiddishe Momme" was written especially for Tucker by Jack Yellen in 1925. The song, which Tucker sang in both Yiddish and English, nearly set off an anti-Semitic riot during a 1932 French performance, and was later banned in Nazi Germany.
As vaudeville gave way to cinema, Tucker secured roles in several films, but she always preferred to perform before a live audience. Her film credits included Honky Tonk (1929) and Follow the Boys (1944). Broadway credits included Cole Porter's Leave It to Me (1938). Over her long career, she appeared on stages with Judy Garland, W.C. Fields, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, and Jack Benny. Throughout her life, Tucker used her earnings to support a variety of charitable causes, including synagogues, hospitals, the Negro Actors Guild, and two youth centers in Israel. Tucker died in New York City on February 9, 1966.
Sophie Tucker is one of the six Jewish funny women chronicled in the film, Making Trouble, produced by the Jewish Women's Archive. To learn more about Sophie Tucker, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: Jewish Women in Comedy; Vaudeville in the United States; Jewesses with Attitude's "What Making Trouble means to me," "The return of the Red Hot Mama," "Red Hot Yiddische Mama," Don't Settle: 5 Life Lessons From Your Red Hot Mama"; Sophie Tucker in the Virtual Archive.
Sources:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1416-1420; New York Times, February 10, 1966, pp. 1 & 31; Jewish Woman Magazine, Funny Girls; Tucker, Sophie from the Encyclopedia Britannica Online; Brian Rust, The Complete Entertainment Discography, From 1897 to 1942, 2nd edition (New York, 1989).