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Red Hot Mama

Red Hot Mama
The Life of Sophie Tucker

This entertaining biography of the “Last of the Red Hot Mamas” reveals how Sophie Tucker became one of the most powerful women in show business, blazing a trail for performers such as Judy Garland, Carol Channing, and Bette Midler.

April 2018
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302 pages | 6 x 9 | 25 b&w photos |

The “First Lady of Show Business” and the “Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” Sophie Tucker was a star in vaudeville, radio, film, and television. A gutsy, song-belting stage performer, she entertained audiences for sixty years and inspired a host of younger women, including Judy Garland, Carol Channing, and Bette Midler. Tucker was a woman who defied traditional expectations and achieved success on her own terms, becoming the first female president of the American Federation of Actors and winning many other honors usually bestowed on men. Dedicated to social justice, she advocated for African Americans in the entertainment industry and cultivated friendships with leading black activists and performers. Tucker was also one of the most generous philanthropists in show business, raising over four million dollars for the religious and racial causes she held dear.

Drawing from the hundreds of scrapbooks Tucker compiled, Red Hot Mama presents a compelling biography of this larger-than-life performer. Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff tells an engrossing story of how a daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants set her sights on becoming one of the most formidable women in show business and achieved her version of the American dream. More than most of her contemporaries, Tucker understood how to keep her act fresh, to change branding when audiences grew tired and, most importantly, how to connect with her fans, the press, and entertainment moguls. Both deservedly famous and unjustly forgotten today, Tucker stands out as an exemplar of the immigrant experience and a trailblazer for women in the entertainment industry.

  • Introduction
  • 1. Breaking with Tradition
  • 2. Finding a Place in the City
  • 3. Acceptance as a Rising Star
  • 4. The Hazards of Becoming a Jazz Queen
  • 5. Everybody’s Mama
  • 6. Grasping for Recognition
  • 7. The Value of Devotion
  • 8. Sophie Tucker for President
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Photo Credits
  • Index

Columbia, South Carolina

A leading scholar of American cultural history, Sklaroff is an associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina. She is the author of Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era and the recipient of an NEH public scholars fellowship.


“Sklaroff assembled an engrossing portrait of this oft-overlooked legend of early Broadway.”

“Sklaroff does Tucker proud; this volume is a winner on every level that should find a well-deserved place in popular culture collections from the Borscht Belt to Tinseltown.”
Library Journal, Starred Review

“An enjoyable portrait of a remarkable woman.”
Theater Jones

“Sophie Tucker didn’t influence Madonna or Lady Gaga— she anticipated them. . . . Sklaroff traces Tucker from her beginnings as a singing waitress at her parents’ kosher restaurant through stardom and her genial fade into nostalgia.”
Milwaukee Shepherd Express

“Sklaroff celebrates Tucker as a pioneer who helped make possible the success of subsequent female performers who did not conform to conventional expectations of what a star’s personality or physique should be.”
The Jewish News of Northern California

“This biography makes a significiant contribution to our understanding of American history...through the wealth of archival material on which it draws and its engagement with the cultural forces that shaped not only Tucker's life but also the lives of the female immigrants who shared her struggle to belong in a foreign environment.”
Journal of American History

“Tucker shines as the bold star of her own show in Red Hot Mama...What Tucker represents as a woman, a Jew, a businessperson, and an entertainer means that this biography is critical to appreciating many of these issues in our recent history.”
American Jewish History

“Sklaroff tells [Sophie Tucker's] story in a thoroughly engrossing way…Scholars and lay readers alike will enjoy learning about this remarkable woman and, at the same time, will broaden their understanding of key historical developments, such as urbanization, Jewish immigration, racism and race relations in the entertainment industry, labor organizing, and changing tastes and technologies in music and other forms of popular culture.”
The Historian

“Bold and sassy, the legendary Sophie Tucker influenced generations of women entertainers. . . Sklaroff sensitively traces the unlikely rise of the daughter of Jewish immigrants, a woman who never fit the svelte body image of popular female entertainers and whose ‘sexual movements and provocative delivery’ shocked some viewers.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Red Hot Mama delivers a thorough and revealing portrait of one of the most enduringly influential stars, and women, of her time.”
Elysa Gardner, theatre and music critic and chair of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama jury

“A vastly entertaining and informative biography of a legendary performer who deserves to be far better known.”
Frank Scheck, arts critic



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3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca