What can be done with Archeophone Records, which releases one superior CD after another? I have reviewed so many of their discs that I have run out of adjectives to say how good they are. And then they came out some time ago with a blockbuster called “Sophie Tucker: Origins of the Red Hot Mama, 1910-1922”! The NY Times gave it a full page spread in their Sunday edition when it first appeared. With less space to command, I will give the bare facts.
Born sometime in the late 1880s and passing away in 1966, she was an original—like Mae West and Al Jolson—who developed a public image that was magnetic. Growing up when Ragtime was beginning to catch on and was developing into jazz, Sophie had a tough-as-nails but with a heart-of-gold persona that wowed audiences. Her powerful voice was just right for the acoustic recording machines of the day.
Not only was it powerful with regard to the recordings, but it was dramatic in a fun-loving way that sold the songs in a way that only Al Jolson, Nora Bayes and (in his own way) Eddie Cantor could do. In short, she sounded as if she meant every word of it. With her, “red hot” meant more than just “ready for action.” She had many imitators but no peers.
The Archeophone disc holds 24 of her early recordings, including “That lovin’ rag,” “Phoebe Jane,” “Please don’t take my harem away,” and “Don’t put a tax on the beautiful girls.” Not one of them became a classic and that is what makes this collection even more interesting and valuable. There is the usual warning against “racially derogatory language,” but Archeophone argues that we can’t censor history to present a nicer but false picture of the past.
Archeophone has always included thick booklets that were worth the price of the album alone, filled as they were with information and vintage pictures. In this case, they have put the 60-page booklet and disc between hard covers; and this format is just right. (The older paperback booklets would hardly fit into the jewel cases of the earlier releases.)
To those who remember “the last of the red hot mamas” and to those who will love getting to know her, this Archeophone set will be a real treasure.