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Sophie Tucker

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Sophie Tucker (January 13, 1884 - February 9, 1966) was a singer and comedian, one of the most popular entertainers in America during the first third of the 20th century.

She was born Sophia Kalish to a Jewish family in Czarist Russia. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was an infant, and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. The family changed its name to Abuza, and her parents opened a restaurant.

She started singing for tips in her family’s restaurant. In 1903, at the age of 19, she was briefly married to Louis Tuck, from which she decided to change her name to “Tucker.” (She would marry twice more in her life, but neither marriage lasted more than five years.)

Tucker played piano and sang burlesque and vaudeville tunes, at first in blackface. She later said that this was at the insistence of theater managers, who said she was “too fat and ugly” to be accepted by an audience in any other context. She even sang songs that acknowledged her heft, such as “Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, But Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love.”

She made a name for herself in a style that was known at the time as a “Coon Shouter”, performing African American influenced songs. Not content with performing in the simple minstrel traditions, Tucker hired some of the best African American singers of the time to give her lessons, and hired African American composers to write songs for her act.

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