Happy 115th Birthday, Annette Hanshaw!

Cladrite sweetheart Annette Hanshaw was born Catherine Annette Hanshaw 115 years ago in Manhattan. For us, she’s the gold standard for songbirds of the late 1920s and early ’30s; we think she’s keen. Here are 10 AH Did-You-Knows:

  • Hanshaw came from something of a show biz family. Her father, Frank Wayne Hanshaw, loved the business so much he ran off to join the circus (he thought better of it and returned), and her aunt, Nellie McCoy, and cousin, Bob “Uke” Hanshaw, were popular and successful vaudeville performers.
  • Hanshaw grew up loving to sing—she performed for the guests at a series of very small hotels her father operated for a time and demo’d sheet music at a Mount Kisco music shop owned by her family—but she dreamed of making her mark as a painter, not a singer, even studying at the National School of Design for a year.
  • Hanshaw made her first professional recordings in 1926, recording a demo of six popular songs of the day for the Pathé label before recording her first commercial recordings—Black Bottom and Six Feet of Papa—in September of that year. She recorded for many labels and under many pseudonyms, including Gay Ellis, Dot Dare, and Patsy Young. She also sang in variety of styles, delivering sentimental songs in a more straightforward fashion and, when appropriate, jazzing peppy songs up a bit. She even did Helen Kane impersonations (on whom Betty Boop‘s vocal stylings were clearly based) on a number of recordings.
  • Hanshaw began to appear on the radio in 1929 and soon was a huge hit. As the twenties gave way to the thirties, she began to sing with Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, and from 1932-34, she was featured on the very popular program Maxwell House Show Boat, which aired every Thursday evening, and she later did 39 weeks on Camel Caravan. Her success on radio did little to alleviate her anxiety about performing over the airwaves. “I’m so afraid I’ll fail, not sing my best,” she said before agreeing to appear on radio. “Suppose I should have to cough. Suppose I didn’t get just the right pitch. And all those people listening.”
  • At the height of her fame, Hanshaw was known as “The Personality Girl” and her trademark was ending each recorded performance with a winsome “That’s all!”
  • Hanshaw loved singing but was not at all confident of her voice and was, at best, a reluctant star. In her later years, when asked to assess the recordings she’d made during her prime, she had not a positive word to offer. She was her own worst critic, and it may have been this tendency that led to her (extremely) premature exit from show business. “I disliked all of [my records] intensely,” she said during a 1972 interview with radio host Jack Cullen. “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.”
  • Hanshaw’s favorites singers of the day were Marion Harris, Sophie Tucker, Blossom Seeley, Ruth Etting, Ethel Waters, and Connee Boswell.
  • Hanshaw composed two songs—Sweet One and Till Your Happiness Comes Along—but it’s unclear if either was ever published or recorded.
  • Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Hanshaw retired from show business in 1937 at the age of 36. She considered a return in the 1950s, recording a pair of private demos to test the waters, but, alas, no comeback was forthcoming.
  • The 2008 animated film Sita Sings the Blues, which retells the Indian epic poem The Ramayana from Sita’s perspective, used Annette Hanshaw’s recordings as its soundtrack. In 2010, her 1929 recording of Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home was used in the video game BioShock 2.

Happy birthday, dear Annette, wherever you may be!

Annette Hanshaw

Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 21

In Chapter 21 of his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy Vallée reveals how he came to use his signature megaphone while performing and how he felt about “copycat” orchestras that sprung up when Vallée’s Connecticut Yankees hit it big.

Chapter XXI

Originality

WHILE WE WERE in Hollywood making our picture we found it impossible to broadcast back to the East. In the first place it was necessary that we be prepared to work on the picture at any hour, day or night, and secondly the line charges for broadcasting across the continent runs into thousands of dollars and the reception in the East at best is never good when transmitted over three thousand miles; but radio fans become very devoted and attached to their radio favorites and many of ours seemed to resent our disappearance from the air even after I had told them we would be away for no longer than eight weeks.
These letters from our very devoted fans who upbraided us for going off the air made me very happy. But the letters I received from those who were confined to sick rooms and who found our music a comfort in their illness, and especially some notes I received from a little blind colony just outside of New York, these made me feel slightly conscience-stricken.
However, something almost laughable had happened in the broadcasting of dance music just before we left for the Coast which made me feel more at ease when I received these letters. It is a well-known fact in theatrical circles that our vaudeville appearances were sensational. Nearly everyone knew, too, that it was our radio broadcasts which had brought this popularity and it is a truism that whenever any product, person or group of persons achieve success in a particular way or through a particular method, that those who likewise desire to achieve success are quick to adopt the same methods and ideas.
Our sudden rise was the cue for other small and comparatively unknown broadcasting orchestra leaders who had been broadcasting for years, possily even before we had gone on the air, to drop their own style and to study our presentation over the air in hopes of discovering just what that something was which had won over our radio audiences. In fact, several of these leaders were frank enough to write or visit me and ask me to show them just how we broadcast and thereby aid them in achieving success. They were honest enough to admit that they too hoped that their adoption of our style would result in as a great a popularity for them.
By July and August just preceding our trip to the Coast, this adoption of our particular style had become a fact according ot the thousands of letters which reached me from listener-in, in which they all asked me if I was going to do something about it. Some showed me copies of letters, very denunciatory in tone, which they had sent to the radio stations asking them why they permitted such an obvious imitation.
But realizing that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and reliazing there was room enough for all of us, I said nothing, and in fact was pleased as the vogue we had apparently created. Then as these unhappy letters from those who missed us reached me, I felt consoled in the thought that in a way those orchestras back East that had admittedly attempted to present a program over the air in the simple style that had brought us such a wonderful reward, these orchestras helped make our absence less keenly felt.

Read More »