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Fridays are the day when we at the McElrath Cabaret Blog present blog posts in our Cabaret Through Time series. We present historical cabaret singers, entertainers, venues, writers, and musicians, and often include cabaret videos. We hope that you find it informative!
Cabaret Entertainment Tips Gleaned From Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson
I decided to do some thing a little different today in the Cabaret Through Time series. I have always admired the work of Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson. They were such mega-stars in their day that a short post can in no way do them justice. Instead, I will refer you to more information:
For Sophie Tucker, please check out
- a documentary in the works
- Wikipedia for an overview of her life
- Jewish Women’s Archive
- You Tube
Here’s Al Jolson with “Swanee”:
I’ve been reading an excellent volume entitled Steppin’ Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930 by Lewis A. Erenberg. This is a really wonderful history of the beginnings of nighclubs and cabaret performance as we know it in North America.
However, my attention was captured by chapter six in the book, called “Some of These Days: Sophie Tucker, The Friendly Entertainer.” As I perused the chapter, a couple of points that these amazing entertainers put into practice jumped out at me as techniques that could still be applied by contemporary cabaret singers today.
Tucker was known for “Mingling with the audience to shake hands and say hello . . .” (183).
Having an outgoing and friendly personality is appealing to audience members. It makes them feel welcome, and that you took a moment to notice them helps to give them a friendly feeling that will draw them back the next time you are performing.
Jolson used another technique to draw in his audiences:
“I used [the runway] to get confidential with the audience by running up and down on this platform, stopping for a chat with people, and by kidding the audience and the performers in general. And the effect of this method of entertaining or of selling my goods was, and is to-day, truly remarkable” (183).
Jolson’s and Tucker’s personal style suggests also that friendship and personality were marketable items for entertainers. Sophie enjoyed meeting and greeting customers. It was something she always did in the cafes because she believed a performer owed it to the patron. ’I know it’s good business’” (183).
For the cabaret entertainer, you can try this out for yourself at your next gig. Make a point of welcoming each audience member–say hello to them, and thank them for coming to see you. It makes a big difference in how the audience feels about you if you give them a personal and friendly touch.
What are your favorite songs performed by Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson? Have you a favorite Tucker or Jolson film? Please leave a comment below and tell us about it–I would love to hear from you!
Till next time,
ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party will begin anew on Monday–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog or website link every Monday through Thursday. Link is below.
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time