was one of the most popular singers and comedians in America
in the early 20th century. She was born as Sophie Kalish
in Russiain 1884. Her parents immigrated to the United States
when she was three months old, and her father changed the
family name to “Abuza” because he feared being
caught for deserting the Russia military.
family first lived in Hartford, Connecticut and ran a kosher
diner and roominghouse that catered to many show business
people. Sophie was intrigued by the theater from a young
age, and began singing for the customers she waited on.
But her parents opposed a career for women, and wanted her
goal to be marriage and a family.
19, Sophie eloped with a local beer card driver, Louis Tuck.
Sophie had one son, Burt, but soon after separated from
her first husband. She subsequently changed her last name
to “Tucker” and moved to New York City to begin
a singing career.
began by singing in cafés, but soon got her first
break in a burlesque show. Because theater managers said
she was “too fat and ugly,” her producers first
insisted that she perform as a blackfaced minstral with
a Southern accent. After two years, she was able to perform
without disguise to audiences in vaudeville houses and music
halls who loved her husky voice and brassy, outspoken comedy
routines. She took her trade seriously, and hired some of
the best teachers and singers to give her lessons. She also
hired a pianist and songwriter, Ted Shapiro, as her accompanist
and music director. He became part of her stage act throughout
her career and wrote many songs for her.
trademark song, “Some of these Days,” was introduced
in 1911. Her most famous song, sung in Yiddush and English,
was “My Yiddishe Momme,” written by Jack Yellen
in 1925. It was a sensational hit everytime Tucker sang
it. Several years after Hitler came into power, the Reich
banned the sale of Tucker’s recordings of “My
Yiddishe Momme” and ordered existing copies destroyed.
described herself as a “King-sized Lollabrigida.”
She was billed as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,”
because her hearty sexual appetite was a frequent subject
of her songs. Her risqué, humorous songs challenged
the current societal stereotypes and prejudices about women’s
sexuality, age, and size. She was the precursor to strong
women entertainers such as Mae West, Fanny Brice, Joan Rivers,
Roseanne Barr, and Bette Midler. As vaudeville gave way
to cinema, Tucker had parts in both Broadway hits and several
films. She was active in efforts to unionize professional
actors, and was the first president of the American Federation
of Actors in 1938.
Sophie Tucker was not as successful in her marriages as
in her career. She married twice more, but all three of
her marriages ended in divorce. She felt that her fame and
economic independence doomed her marriages. Men in her generation
were attracted to strong, financially successful women,
but wanted to dominate them once they were married and were
emotionally challenged in a relationship with a woman who
earned significantly more money than they did.
is quoted as saying: “From birth to age eighteen,
a girl needs good parents. From eighteen to thirty-five,
she needs good looks. From thirty-five to fifty-five, she
needs a good personality. From fifty-five on, she needs
Tucker embraced the Jewish principle of Tzedaka. She established
the Sophie Tucker Foundation, donating money and energy
to large variety of causes. She contributed to the Jewish
Theatrical Guild, the Negro Actors Guild, synagogues, and
hospitals. Her foundation endowed a chair at Brandeis University.
She visited Israel many times and built two youth centers
there. She funded the Sophie Tucker Forest near the Beit
Shemesh amphitheater and donated time and money to numerous
hospitals and homes for the aged in Israel. Tucker raised
over four million dollars for servicemen during World War
I and later donated to charity all the proceeds from her
fiftieth-anniversary record album and her autobiography.
fame and popularity lasted more than fifty years. She never
retired, still performing a few weeks before she died of
lung cancer at age 82, in 1966. Three thousand mourners
attended her funeral. Sophie Tucker’s legacy is not
only from her role as a innovative and popular entertainer,
but also through her generous contributions to charitable