Sophie Tucker, the comedienne, upon her arrival in New York on Sept. 9, 1931 after spending more than a year in London and Paris. Miss Tucker is dressed in what she claims is the “latest thing” — afternoon pajamas of blue tweed, designed by Paul Poiret. (AP Photo)
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Born Sonya Kalish to a Jewish family en route to a new life in America from Tsarist Russia in 1887, Sophie Tucker would become one of the greatest and most beloved entertainers of the 20th century.
The singer, comedian, TV, film and radio personality grew from humble roots in Hartford, Connecticut where her family appropriated the last name Abuza and opened a restaurant. In addition to helping maintain the family business, Sophie began singing for tips at an early age and discovered her powerful voice and innate knack for entertaining.
At 16, Sophie married local heartthrob Louis Tuck (from whom she would derive her famous last name) and soon after gave birth to her son, Bert. The rocky marriage and jump into motherhood exposed Sophie to a bleak future ahead if she chose to stay close to home and abandon her theatrical dreams. With heartbreaking determination, Sophie left her child to be raised by her younger sister, Anna and left Hartford for New York City. With just $90 in her pocket, Sophie was determined to make a name for herself and find success that would allow her to give back to her beloved family.
The harsh reality of roughing it in New York didn’t faze the ingénue and, after pounding the pavement and pinching pennies, Sophie eventually found work performing vaudeville and burlesque tunes in local establishments. However, being pegged “too fat and ugly” to perform as herself, Sophie was restricted to performing in blackface as a “coon shouter.” While she made a name for herself with this act, a happy accident which left her without her makeup kit one day in 1909 forced Sophie to go on stage naturally – that is, as natural as a full-figured girl in a sequined ball gown and golden curls can be. The crowd adored the real Sophie, and though the disguise was gone for good, she would continue to draw on ragtime, blues, and jazz influences, which were primarily African American genres at the time.
Mayor Edward J. Kelly of Chicago, left, and Jimmy Walker, right, former mayor of New York, congratulate Sophie Tucker, famed entertainer in New York for the singer’s help in sponsoring the Actors Fund benefit, Sept. 29, 1940. (AP Photo)
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Singer Sophie Tucker is shown, March 25, 1944. (AP Photo/RM)
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In 1910, she first sang what became her signature song, “Some of These Days.” That same year, she was hauled offstage and tried for obscenity, but the judge threw out the case. For the next several weeks, her shows were sold out, with lines around the block. She toured America and Europe throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, delighting audiences in Vienna and Berlin with “My Yiddishe Momme,” a song later banned by Hitler. In 1945, she created the Sophie Tucker Foundation, which supported various actors’ guilds, hospitals, synagogues, and Israeli youth villages. While Tucker performed in a number of movies, she preferred the stage, performing on Broadway and in London. When she died in 1966, she had two years of engagements planned. Striking teamsters’ union hearse drivers called off their picket to serve at her funeral.
Singer Sophie Tucker, the last of the red hot mama’s, shouts out her theme song, “Some of These Days,” to a mixed wartime audience at New York’s Copacabana Night Club, April 7, 1944. (AP Photo)
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Sailors joke with radio personality Sophie Tucker and feed her multiple hot dogs at the United Service Organizations (USO) center in Chicago, Ill., July 2, 1944. From left are, Marine Pvt. Art McCarroll, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Corp. Verne Hink, of Oklahoma City, Okla.; Seaman Fred Bishara, Binghamton, N.Y.; and Seaman Alan Frank, Salt Lake City, Utah. (AP Photo)
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She attracted a few nicknames:
In a career that spanned seven decades, Tucker was variously billed as “The Empress of Songs,” “The Syncopated Cyclone” and “Our Lady Nicotine”; as “Iron Lungs,” “Muscle Dancer” and “Vaudeville’s Pet”; as “The Ginger Girl,” “The Grizzly Bear Girl” and “The Girl Who Never Disappoints.” During her early years as a vaudeville headliner, when rags were the rage, she was “The Tetrazzini of Ragtime.” When jazz took over, she became “The Queen of Jazzaration.”
Sophie Tucker is celebrating her golden jubilee. Her amazing vitality enables her to bound from movies to theater to night clubs to numerous charity benefits. It’s hard to believe that 50 years ago she was singing Â“Wait Till the Sun Shines, NellieÂ” for dimes and quarters in Hartford, Conn. Her Golden Jubilee will be climaxed by a dinner in her honor at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York on October 4. Sophie Tucker, last of the Red Hot Mamas, surrounds herself with memories of stars in her 50 years of show business, Sept. 26, 1953. On the wall is a Â“travelogueÂ” of Miss Tucker and those who have appeared with her. (AP Photo/Robert Kradin)
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Sophie Tucker, famous entertainer known as “The last of the Red Hot Mamas,” makes her arrival at golden jubilee dinner in her honor in 1903 ford “Flivver” Oct. 4, 1953 at Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York City. Driver is Eldred Crowe, of Westfield, New Jersey dressed in gold duster. (AP Photo/TF)
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Sophie Tucker, left, and Mary Martin, long-time friends in show business, greet each other at premiere of Â“The Young LionsÂ” at New York’s Paramount Theater, April 2, 1958. The actress were among the celebrities of stage and screen and the entertainment world who turned out for the premiere. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)
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In an outfit with slight Wild Western influences, Sophie Tucker laments the state of TV’s Western heroes in her new night club act in Las Vegas, Nev., Feb. 13, 1959. The veteran star is still quick on the draw with salty quips. (AP Photo)
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Singer and entertainer Sophie Tucker, also known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” shares a moment with Joseph Cronin, mayor of Hartford, Conn., at a Golden Jubilee Dinner in her honor, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, October 4, 1953. (AP Photo)
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Two veterans of the show business world, Sophie Tucker and Maurice Chevalier, met in Hollywood, March 5, 1959 at the annual Golden Globe awards dinner of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. They brought down the house with a duet a few minutes later. Chevalier had come from Paris to accept an award for Â“Outstanding Contributions to the Entertainment World.Â” (AP Photo/Harold P. Matosian)
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Two stars of two entertainment eras, Sophie Tucker, left, and Jayne Mansfield, meet at the annual awards dinner of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in Hollywood, March 6, 1959. They were among dozens of stars who turned out to watch presentation of awards for outstanding film performances. (AP Photo/Harold P. Matosian)
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Ted Lewis and Sophie Tucker, who are appearing as co-headliners at the Moulin Rouge in Hollywood are visited by entertainer Maurice Chevalier, right, backstage, Aug. 13, 1959. (AP Photo)
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Singer Sophie Tucker blows out the candles on a birthday cake as she celebrates her 74th birthday in Dallas, Jan. 13, 1962. Behind her hangs a painting by Dallas artist Dmitri Vail which she saw finished for the first time. (AP Photo/Ferd Kaufman)
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Queen Elizabeth II meeting Bob Hope and Sophie Tucker as the artists were presented to her after the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium.
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Sophie Tucker, the “Last of the Red Hot Mamas””, cuts a birthday cake at a famous French Quarter Restaurant in New Orleans, La., Jan. 14, 1964. The party was given in honor of her 80th birthday. On her right is Ted Shapiro, musical director, that has been with her for 43 years. On her other hand is Seymour Weiss, president, and general manager of a large New Orleans hotel. Others are unidentified. Yhe cake says ‘KEEP BREATHING’ (AP Photo/VTK)
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Sophie Tucker, celebrating her 60th year in show business, wipes a tear from her eye at the end of performance at the Latin Quarter night club in New York City, Sept. 23, 1964. Miss Tucker says she has no thoughts of retiring. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)
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Singer Sophie Tucker, 75, billed as, “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,Â” holds a trophy honoring her 60th anniversary in show business, May 4, 1964. Sophie, who is still active in the entertainment field, was honored on May 3 in New York City by The Troupers, an organization of the wives of show business personalities. (AP Photo)
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Sophie Tucker whose fame didn’t exactly rest on Mozart or Verdi arias, agreed to give youth a plug when she posed with the singing McGuire Sisters, Christine, Phyllis and Dorothy after their debut at the Plaza’s Persian room, April 24, 1964. Sophie, commonly known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas”, was on hand along with other celebrities to welcome the swinging sisters to New York. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)
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