In honor of the 50th anniversary of singer Sophie Tucker’s death Feb. 9, 1966, the BBC’s William Kremer has put together a mesmerizing trip down memory lane.
After reminding that Tucker ‘smoked so much that a parrot, belonging to one of her friends, would cough every time her name was mentioned,’ he gets around to some of the innumerable examples of the performer’s gumption. Tucker ran away at a young age from her home in Hartford to New York, where she started paying her dues:
A promoter told her she was too fat and ugly to be a singer, but she would do in blackface, so she spent a year and a half touring as a minstrel singer. She disliked this work, however, and started to sabotage her own act.
“Against the rules, first she would take off a glove and show that she had a white hand, at the end of the act,” says Lloyd Ecker, a self-confessed Tucker obsessive, who with his wife Sue has written a book about the singer and produced a documentary film. “Then it went a little further – she would pull her wig off and show her blonde hair – and the audience loved it.”
Tucker was ahead of the curve on so many fronts. She cannily adapted to new technologies, recognized the value of product endorsements very early on and in 1924, chose a percentage of the gate for a concert tour in lieu of performance fees.
The wink-wink nature of the article headline may be lost on those unfamiliar with the singer’s persona and catalog (Kremer and his editors are riffing on the Tucker song “Nobody Loves a Fat Girl”), but make no mistake. If Tucker were alive today, she would love this profile, which also includes the thoughts of a British actress who played Tucker in a one-woman U.K. show.
[Screen grab via: bbc.com]