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College of Arts & Sciences
Jewish Studies Program

The History Center's Faculty Spotlight Lecture Featuring Associate Professor Lauren Sklaroff.

Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 6:00pm

Location: Tapp’s Arts Center, 1644 Main Street, Columbia, SC

This event is co-sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program. 


Lauren Sklaroff, Associate Professor of History

During this Faculty Spotlight, Lauren Sklaroff introduces her forthcoming biography, Wanting to be Wanted: Sophie Tucker and the Creation of a Show Business Legend. This biography has received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, University of South Carolina Provost Fellowship Program, and the New York Public Library. It will be published by the University of Texas Press in 2018.


 “Introducing the ‘First Lady of Show Business’: The Incredibly Forgotten Sophie Tucker”

Sophie Tucker is both famous and obscure. While she was a gutsy, racy, song-belting stage performer, her influence extended far beyond the sequins, wigs, and innuendos. As a woman who wielded significant financial and creative capital, she was much more than a Marx Brothers punch line. She would have been proud to be a reference point for modern comediennes like Bette Midler and Joan Rivers ­– or to have her signature song, “Some of These Days”, appear in the pilot for the hit show, Boardwalk Empire ­ but her cultural influence goes much deeper.

Determined to make a name for herself as an independent woman Tucker flaunted traditional expectations, particularly for Jewish daughters. Tucker learned early on the importance of curating her stage persona.  From her close study of successful performers on the vaudeville stage, she learned how to look like she “belonged on Broadway.”  She knew the importance of appearance, “in show business,” she once said, “clothes matter.”  And from her friends (and foes) in the business she learned the importance of being a shrewd manager of her career. 

 Known among celebrities and audiences as a “Yiddishe Mama,” Tucker worked to create unity among various faiths in her appearances and charity work. She traveled internationally to promote philanthropic causes, particularly in Israel, where she established two youth centers. Dedicated to social justice, she advocated for African Americans in the entertainment industry and cultivated friendships with leading black activists and performers. A frequent subject of conversation in the black press, Tucker was heralded for her promotion of African American artists such as Sheldon Brooks, Bill Robinson, and Noble Sissle. A champion of both political and artistic expression during her six decades in show business, she donated her time and over four million dollars to the causes she held dear. 

Preserving her legacy would be another one of her causes. From the beginning of her career in 1907 to her death in 1966, she clipped every mention of her name and kept every piece of correspondence she received in scrapbooks. The remarkable contents include news clippings, greeting cards of every sort, receipts, song lyrics, photographs, sheet music, and concert programs illuminating Sophie Tucker’s world and that of many Jewish entertainers who lived in the first half of the twentieth century. Reporters wrote an astounding number of articles about Tucker, domestically and internationally, she kept thousands of fan letters over almost fifty years.