Born in Russia on January 13, 1887, “the Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” Sophie Tucker immigrated to the United States as an infant and began her long career shortly afterward, singing for tips in her parents’ restaurant. Between taking orders and serving customers, Sophie would stand in a narrow space by the door and belt out songs with all the drama she could muster. “At the end of the last chorus,” she remembered, “between me and the onions, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
In 1903, at the age of 16, Tucker eloped with a local beer cart driver who gave her her stage name and a son but not much more. Her first theatrical appearance came a few years later in 1907 at a vaudeville amateur night where she was forced to wear blackface and sing with a southern drawl. The following year she joined a burlesque show and, during a tour, lost her luggage including her makeup kit. She went on stage without blackface and announced to the audience that she wasn’t black or southern. “I’m a Jewish girl,” she said, “Now please play my song.”
She soon gained stardom using a combination of comic risque and “fat girl” songs such as “Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, But Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love.” Her signature song, however, was “Some of These Days.” She became one of the most popular entertainers in America, following her vaudeville and burlesque career with movies through the 30’s and 40’s and television in the 50’s and 60’s. She influenced many female performers, including such larger than life performers as Mae West and Bette Midler.
Sophie Tucker continued performing until her death in 1966.