The name and music of Annette Hanshaw is perhaps not heard or remembered today, and yet it seems that there was something about this vocalist from the 1920s and early 1930s that made an impression on many. The fact that she was called 'The Personality Girl' gives us a clue. An album Annette Hanshaw The Jazz Age Queen sets the scene with Annette taking the popular syncopated songs of the period and mastering the timing - listen to I've Got A Feeling I'm Falling.
Notes accompanying a compilation album on the Retrospective label point out 'Not least of the attractions of Annette Hanshaw's work is the galaxy of top jazzmen who backed her. Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Manny Klein, Eddie Lang, Miff Mole, Red Nichols, Adrian Rollini, Muggsy Spanier, Jack Teagarden and Joe Venuti the cream of 'white' jazz are just some of jazz greats to be heard.'
Referring to I've Got A Feeling I'm Falling, someone on YouTube writes: "Life has so many magic, wonderful moments and we often fail to see or feel them when they are screaming and jumping up and down right in front of us. Sometimes, when I am low, I remember this, and wonder if we could withstand the joy if we took every minute particle in every second. Probably not. HA!!! There is a little of that embedded and overt joy in this song, and I have listened to it ten times in two days. I think I am falling for Annette. That little "That's all" gets me every time."
Alan Bond wrote to us: "I have a soft spot for Annette Hanshaw and virtually all her known recordings are available via Spotify. I was utterly jealous of Trevor Benwell (founding editor of Vintage Jazz Mart) as he got to meet her when he was in the US many years ago (in the 1940s I think as Trevor was over there as part of his RAF service) and he had a signed photo of her in among the raft of photo's he had in his front room at Dollis Hill. I did ask him if I could have it when he popped off but it never materialised and Trevor has been gone for a good few years now."
Annette Hanshaw was originally thought to have been born in New York in 1910, beginning her recording career shortly before her 16th birthday. However, it has come to light that she was in fact born nine years earlier in 1901, making her twenty-five at the time of her first commercial recording in September 1926. In a 1934 poll held by Radio Stars, she received the title of best "female popular singer," alongside Bing Crosby as best "male popular singer." (Ruth Etting came third). King Edward VIII, then the Prince of Wales, was a fan and apparently loved dancing to her music.
Annette made many recordings between 1926 and 1934 for Pathé, Columbia and ARC that were issued on various labels including the Perfect, Harmony, Diva, Clarion, Velvet Tone, OKeh and Vocalion labels. She recorded under a number of pseudonyms including 'Gay Ellis' (for sentimental numbers), 'Dot Dare' and 'Patsy Young' (for impersonations of Helen Kane).
Here is a brief, rare film of Annette singing We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye.
Annette made one appearance in the 1933 Paramount short Captain Henry's Radio Show, "a picturization" of the popular Thursday evening radio program Maxwell House Show Boat, in which she starred from 1932 to 1934. The clip of We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye above was clearly taken from this footage but I have included it again as it reflects the scene at that time. We can watch Annette in this video in Captain Henry's Radio Show (with Annette at 7.06 minutes in and some 'blackface' performances since consigned to social history).
Annette Hanshaw retired in the late 1930s and later said: "As a matter of fact, I disliked all of [my records] intensely. I was most unhappy when they were released. I just often cried because I thought they were so poor, mostly because of my work, but a great deal, I suppose, because of the recording. [...] I disliked the business intensely. I loathed it, and I'm ashamed to say I just did it for the money. I loved singing, you know, jamming with the musicians when it isn't important to do, but somehow or another I was terribly nervous when I sang. [...] You just have to be such a ham and love performing, and I happen to be an introvert, and I just wasn't happy singing, and I wasn't happy with my work as I said." (Radio interview with Jack Cullen, 1978).
Here is Annette singing Get Out Under The Moon in 1928, and here she is singing Am I Blue a year later with video footage of New York from 1929, and accompanied by further details of her life by the person posting the video.
Later in her life Annette considered making a comeback and produced two unreleased demo recordings but she died of cancer in 1985 at New York Hospital, aged 83, after a long illness.