Extent: 14 linear feet
Sophie Tucker (1884-1966) was a Jewish vaudevillian and Broadway star. Throughout her fifty year career, she starred in numerous Broadway productions and films. She was notable for performing songs in Yiddish and for flaunting her large figure and sexuality. She had a lasting impact in musical theater and directly influenced other female singers and performers.
Sophie Tucker (1884-1966), originally Sophie Kalish, was born in Russia to a Jewish family in the midst of immigrating to America. Raised in Hartford, Connecticut as Sophie Abuza, she began singing in her family’s restaurant for tips. When she was 16, she married Louis Tuck, but shortly after her son Albert’s birth in 1906, she asked for a separation and moved to New York City. She changed her last name to Tucker and was soon introduced to the famous composer Harold Von Tilzer. Tucker was notably and proudly a large Jewish woman, which made show producers worry about her commercial potential early in her career. Because of their doubt, they insisted she perform only in blackface, thinking it would be the only way for her to appeal to the audience. Only when her makeup kit was lost was she given a chance to perform without it, and at the show she proudly proclaimed her Jewish heritage. She quickly became popular among vaudeville audiences, singing in both English and Yiddish. In 1921, she began a lifelong collaboration with Ted Shapiro, who frequently accompanied Tucker on piano and provided patter in between songs. Her most notable songs included “Some of These Days” and “My Yiddishe Momme.” Starting in 1929 with the film Honky Tonk, she also led a career as a screen actress, appearing alongside Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Robert Taylor in films such as Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry and Broadway Melody of 1938. She also made regular appearances on radio and in her later years performed on television programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She was well known for her philanthropy, donating regularly to a number of different organizations, including the Jewish Theatrical Guild, the Negro Actors Guild, and the Catholic Actors Guild. She has had a lasting influence on Jewish culture as well as feminism, flaunting her figure, sexuality, and independence openly. She has been cited as a major inspiration by many female performers, especially Bette Midler, who created a character based on Tucker. On February 9, 1966, Tucker died of kidney failure in New York City.
Scope and Content
Objects in the collection are primarily sheet music, lyrics, and patter (on-stage banter in between songs) for performances and songs used by Tucker. There is also a substantial number of photographs featuring Tucker, her family, and friends and colleagues also in the entertainment industry, such as Judy Garland and Bob Hope. The collection includes correspondence, as well as newspaper clippings and articles, speeches given by Tucker at various events, manuscripts, and publications. The collection contains a number of awards and certificates given to Tucker, a single recording of “My Yiddishe Momme” on shellac 78 rpm disc, and costumes worn by Tucker in various performances.
Series I: Sheet music, lyrics, and orchestration, 1910-1940
Series II: Personal papers, 1902-1964
Series III: Photographs, ca. 1890-1966
Series IV: Phonograph record, 1928
Series V: Costumes, ca. 1925-1965
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