When last we spoke in this blog, I stated that I would return to the subject of Sophie Tucker. As I had mentioned, Sophie had been arrested for singing bawdy dance songs such as “The Grizzly Bear” and the “Angle Wiggle Worm,” and any dance that draws the disdain of the class of people known as “dance masters,” always piques my interest. I remember hearing about Sophie Tucker since I was a child—Sophie died in 1966 at age 80, so our lives overlapped by 9 years—but I had no idea really who she was. Turns out, she was something, indeed.
She was Mae West before there was a Mae West. She sang bawdy songs, a phenomenon that today we would label as “empowering female sexuality.” (We like to append serious sociological labels on such things these days, apparently in an attempt to squeeze every last drop of joy from the thing, but I digress.) I get the distinct impression that Sophie sang such songs because they were fun and funny, but with the understanding that “funny” often contains truth expressed with a smile. The lyrics were direct, but not explicit as are today’s lyrics which sound more like instructions on how to insert Tab A into Slot B, which come to think of it, is a great title for a Sophie Tucker song.
Most famously, Sophie came to be billed as “the last of the red hot mamas” having recorded “Red Hot Mama” in 1924 and “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas” in 1929. This latter song is particularly hilarious and I would invite you to click on this link for the full lyrics. Here is a sample:
Now it may be snowing,
But when I get going,
Oh baby, I’m hot!
You can keep your collegiate charmers,
Their lovin’ isn’t worth a dime!
Away up in Alaska where the natives freeze,
An Eskimo left my hut in his BVD’s!
Sophie loved her fans and regularly sent personal notes inviting them to shows. She also corresponded with many GI’s during World War II. By all accounts, she was a very warm person—one might say that she was not only a red-hot mama, but a red-hot friend as well.
Sophie was a large woman, who thought nothing of her size. “I Don’t Want to Get Thin” from 1929 is one of her recordings, which also include “Life Begins at Forty” from 1947. The themes expressed in these songs might strike us as rather “modern,” but they are simply a reflection of a person who was happy to be who she was and didn’t question it. One is tempted to say that Sophie Tucker was ahead of her time, but it is more accurate to say that she was timeless.
If you enjoy stories about larger-than-life people, then you should get to know Sophie further. Visit the Sophie Tucker website and also watch the 2014 documentary, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, which is detailed on the website and available on Netflix and YouTube.
With that, I leave you with this, a typical Sophie Tucker song, sure to bring a smile.