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Sophie Tucker


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Sexual songs and outrageous comedy are nothing new. But at the beginning, there was Sophie Tucker—raw and raucous and wildly popular for her exuberant comedy, her blues singing, and her string of sentimental Jewish hits like “My Yiddishe Mama.”

Sophia Kalish made a rather dramatic entrance into the world in 1884, just as the family was emigrating from Russia to America. As a kid, she learned to play the piano and accompanied her sister at amateur shows. Audiences loved her. Still in her teens, she married Louis Tuck. The two would soon divorce, but with a little modification of Louis’s name, Sophie Tucker set out to make it in show business. Early on, she was persuaded to perform in blackface—offensive by modern-day standards, but fairly common a century ago. She dropped that part of the act when she realized she did just as well without it.

In 1914, she played The Palace—the pinnacle in vaudeville. She had hits with Jewish songs, straight blues, and novelties like “Who Paid the Rent for Mrs. Rip van Winkle When Rip Van Winkle Went Away?” Sophie Tucker would spend decades singing the songs she made famous in her vaudeville days.

Last of the Red Hot Mammas, Memoir Records, 1998.

Sophie Tucker
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