Declaring "I'm the Last of the Red Hot Mamas" in one of her best-known songs, Sophie Tucker created a brassy, bawdy persona that made her a smashing success on the vaudeville circuit and the musical stage.
Tucker was born Sonia Kalish on January 13, 1884 in Russia. Her family moved to the United States when she was 3 and settled in Connecticut. As a teenager, she began performing in vaudeville sketches. Sophie married a man named Louis Tuck at age 16 and had a son, Albert, a year later, at which point Tuck left her. Changing her married name to Tucker to produce her stage name, Sophie moved to New York to pursue a singing career, initially performing at small caf’s and beer halls, until her break into vaudeville came in 1906.
In 1909, Tucker landed a job with the Ziegfeld Follies and by 1911 she was a headlining act. Previously a blackface performer, she dropped the persona in favor of gaudy costumes and risqué comic songs. During World War I, Tucker adopted jazz stylings and toured with a small group called the Five Kings of Syncopation; she also played from 1914-1917 with second husband Frank Westphal, a pianist, but their marriage dissolved shortly thereafter.
In 1919, Tucker landed her first Broadway role in Shubert Gaieties; two years later, she hired as musical director pianist Ted Shapiro, who would accompany her for the next 40 years, writing a great deal of her bawdier material as well. She made her first of many trips to London in 1922, starring in the revue Round in 50. Tucker scored hits in the 1920s with songs like a re-recording of "Some of These Days," I'm the Last of the Red Hot Mamas," and "My Yiddishe Momme," the latter two co-written by Jack Yellen, a regular contributor whom Tucker paid a regular salary plus commissions. As motion pictures began to rob vaudeville of its audience, Tucker tried to make the leap herself; she made her film debut in Honky Tonk in 1929, but the next year went to London to star in the musical comedy Follow a Star. For the next few years, she alternated London stage appearances with occasional films like Gay Love (1936), Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), and Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937). Tucker also appeared in several more Broadway shows, including Leave It to Me (1938), Gay Paree, and High Kickers (1941).
With her brassy, flamboyant vocal style, Tucker recorded over 20 hit songs from 1910 through 1929, including her signature song “Some of These Days”, a #1 hit in 1927 with Ted Lewis and His Band.
Towards the end of her career, Tucker spent most of her time performing in nightclubs, preferring the more intimate atmosphere and audience interaction. Sophie Tucker died on February 9, 1966, three years after becoming the subject of the biographical musical Sophie.