Sophie Tucker

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Picture 7

 ‘The Last of The Red Hot Mamas’

In the late 1940’s and early 1950’’s, there was a small nightclub located in the Third Ward called ‘the Holiday House’. It featured vaudeville entertainers from the past. As vaudeville faded some of these entertainers turned to radio, others to small nightclubs around the country.

It was here that I saw and heard Sophie Tucker “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas”. Sophie was not considered to be one of the beauties of the day, she was somewhat hefty and she was loud, lavish, brash and sassy. What she had however was a charisma and the ability to endear herself with the audience. In the intimate atmosphere of a nightclub she could say whatever she wanted and sing the audiences favorite songs.

As the house lights dimmed, Ted Shapiro, her pianist of over 40 years took his seat at the piano and as he began her signature song ‘Some of These Days’, the spotlight focused on Sophie and the show began. She didn’t need a cast of backup singers or dancers, ear deafening loud speakers or flashing lights, she did it with her singing and personality. She did wear lavish costumes that she boasted cost$50,000 for new songs and gowns for each new act. 

Ted Shapiro was part of her stage act, playing the piano and exchanging wisecracks and sometimes risqué banter between numbers. When the show was over and we left the club, Sophie was seated near the exit at a table piled high with her record albums for sale and dared you to leave without buying one. She was one of a kind.

Sophie was born in Russia on January 13, 1884, and emigrated to America as an infant with her mother, to join her husband. They settled in Connecticut where she grew up working in her family’s restaurant. She started performing as a youngster singing  and playing  the piano for tips. 

In 1903 she briefly married Louis Tuck from which she decided to change her name to ‘Tucker’. She had a son from this marriage. She married twice more but neither of these lasted more than five years. Tucker made her first appearance in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1909 and remained in vaudeville and on cabaret stages for the rest of her life. She also recorded many records that became hit tunes including ‘Some of These Days’ and ‘After You’ve Gone’.

Among the films she was in were ‘Broadway Melody of 1938’; ‘Follow the Boys’ from 1944 and the ‘Joker Is Wild’ in 1957. One critic portrayed her as a cross between the sex-minded Mae West and the homely Fanny Brice. She had a hit Broadway musical comedy ‘Leave It To Me’ with Victor Moore and Mary Martin.

While in London music halls she once greeted King George with an earthy “Hiya King”. She was known for her  philanthropy and gave millions to charities. She was on radio with Ben Bernie in the late 1930’s. Ben Bernie and the Lads was sponsored by Milwaukee’s Pabst Brewery.

She played at the Latin Quarter just months before she died at age 82 on February 9, 1966.  A quote of hers that is apropos of her life “From birth to age 18, a girl needs good parents, from 18 to 35 she needs good looks, from 35 to 55 she needs a good personality, and from 55 on she needs cash. 

Sophie Tucker

Born: January 13, 1884; Russia

Died: February 9, 1966; New York City of lung and kidney diseas