Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Jablonsky, Thomas J.

Second Advisor

Avella, Steven M.

Third Advisor

Foster, Kristen

Abstract

This study is an historical biography of the popular American entertainer from the nineteen-forties and fifties named Hildegarde. Known by her first name long before such designations became commonplace, Hildegarde achieved such celebrity status that she influenced women's fashions and promoted a number of consumer products. She even had her own signature Revlon lipstick and nail polish called "Hildegarde Rose." Hildegarde's career spanned for more than seventy years, beginning as a pianist for silent movies in Milwaukee and eventually becoming the darling of nightclubs and supper clubs. Unfortunately, few people remember this entertainer or her influence. She has been overlooked by historians as a cultural influence and a groundbreaking performer even though in 1945 she was the most popular songstress in the nation.

Hildegarde is unique because she did not fit into the accepted archetype of women during her heyday. She was neither a domestic, motherly type nor was she the girl next door. In fact, she and her manager, a woman name Anna Sosenko, worked together as well as lived together, all of which was public knowledge. Yet this did not deter the American public from adoring Hildegarde. She set fashion standards for women, and numerous celebrities used her image and copied her act to gain popularity. By the nineteen fifties, she was proclaimed the most impersonated performer in show business.

This dissertation encompasses the time from her birth in 1906 through her death in 2005. Included in this study are examinations of: Milwaukee in the 1920s, the life and times of vaudeville performers, the culture of cabaret performers in 1930s Paris and London, radio performance and stars in 20th century America, and the night-club and supper-club craze of 1940s and 1950s. Of particular importance is her relationship with Anna and Anna's career as one of the only female managers of the time. Hildegarde's life and career is a lense by which to examine popular culture, leisure activities, women's history, and music as well as cultural trends and attitudes in twentieth-century America.

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