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My father was born in Savannah, Georgia. He was the youngest of a very large family and the only boy. He was called “Cracker” all his life because of his home state. As a teen, he longed to be on the stage, and he dropped out of high school to give it a try. He was briefly in vaudeville, where he teamed up with a tall beautiful brunette from Savannah named Lillian Wise. They had an act called “The Wise Crackers.” Whether it lasted more than a few weeks or months or longer, I can’t say because I don’t know. He always loved to do the soft shoe and make jokes, mostly corny ones.
His favorite singer was Beatrice Kay, one of the great stars of vaudeville. Growing up in the 1940s, we heard her records on our old Victrola again and again (none of us children had money to buy our own records).
Here were two of his favorite songs: “Mention My Name in Sheboygan,” which Kay performed here, long past her prime and one of her rare appearances on video. Another was “She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage.”And of course, “After the Ball Is Over.” My Daddy also loved Sophie Tucker (we met her once when she stayed at our neighbors’ home while performing in a nightclub act at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston), Al Jolson, and Eddie Cantor. I must have heard every song Al Jolson recorded. And who could ever forget Sophie Tucker’s theme song, “Some of These Days”?
Many years later, living in Brooklyn, I was rummaging in a used bookstore on Fulton Street and found a fifth edition of Richard Wright’s Black Boy, inscribed by Sophie Tucker and dated “Chicago 1945.” It now rests on a shelf with first editions, a treasure.