Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Birthday to the Last of the Red Hot Mamas

If you've known me more than 20 minutes you know that i WORSHIP Sophie Tucker (whenever you say "thank God" it is Sophie who says, "You're welcome"). NOT the Soph character that Bette Midler does (though, Bette is also divine), but THE Sophie Tucker - the Last of the Red Hot Mamas! She died 9 months before I was born (draw your own conclusions), but she was born today in 1886. Happy Birthday dear Sophie.

born Jan. 13 - 1886
died Feb. 9 - 1966

Durrell born Nov. 15, 1966 (sometimes the life wheel spins around quickly, no?)

Sophie (a stage name) was born Sonya Kalish in Imperial Russia (actually the Ukraine). When she was a baby her family moved to the US (Connecticut) and opened a restaurant. Her career began singing for tips in the family restaurant. She married when she was 17 (Louis Tuck) and they had a son. The marriage did not last long. She would go on to marry twice again.

She went on to develop an act which she did in Vaudeville and Burlesque theatres. She sang risque songs and since she was a woman of some size, she even acknowledged this while affirming herself in the process (one of her great songs was "Nobody Loves a Fat Girl but Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love!").

She also became famous for songs such as "Last of the Red Mamas" and "Some of These Days" as well as for the mournful "My Yiddishe Mama".

Sophie was sensitive to the racism of the time because in a way she was victimized by it. Theatre managers, early in her career, told her she was too fat and too unattractive for theater audiences, so they would only allow her to perform in "black-face." She was such a dynamic performer she became popular enough to be able to ditch the minstrel style black face performances, but she continued to sing songs influenced by the African American blues and ragtime traditions. For a while, she was known as the Mary Garden of Ragtime (referring to a famous opera singer) of the era.

Sophie was also a union organizer and a supporter of Israel. Additionally, she endowed a theatre arts chair at Brandeis University.

In addition to Vaudeville and Burlesque, Sophie appeared in 4 Broadway shows, made supporting and cameo appearances in numerous films, had her own radio show for a year, and made many talk/variety TV show appearances toward the end of her life.
She is credited with influencing some of the "brassy" female comics and singers that followed her, such as Mae West, Mama Cass, and Joan Rivers. And of course, she is the inspiration for Bette Midlers' famous "Soph" character.

Dear Sophie - you are still in my heart the LAST of the Red Hot Mamas!

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