Annette Hanshaw was one of the most popular female singers of the late 1920's and early 1930's. Her records have endured among collectors and fans for over eighty years. She was a cheerful interpreter of catchy pop tunes who could also sing heartbreaking ballads. Her charm, classy demeanor, good looks, and abundant talent earned her the title of "The Twenties Sweetheart."
Hanshaw was born in 1901 to a middle-class New York family. Her father managed a string of guest houses and small hotels, and often hosted parties for his guests and other notable business clientele. It was at one of these parties that a music executive, Herman Rose of Pathe Records, heard young Annette sing and play piano. Although largely self-taught, the 25 year old was a graceful and polished performer, and Rose wasted no time auditioning her for a recording contract.
She was noticeably nervous during her audition, but the executives at Pathe liked what they heard and signed her as an exclusive artist. Hanshaw's first commercial recording was made on Sept. 12 1926. Red Nichols (cornet), Miff Mole (trombone), Jimmy Lytelle (clarinet), and Irving Brodsky (banjo) accompanied her as she sang "Six Feet of Papa."
Because of her "jazzy" singing style, Hanshaw was often accompanied by top jazz musicians when she recorded. Here are two great recordings featuring some of the New York jazz scene's best musicians -- "Who's That Knocking At My Door" (1927) featuring Adrian Rollini (bass sax and 'goofus'), Joe Venuti (violin), Eddie Lang (guitar) and Chauncey Morehouse (drums), and "Lovable and Sweet" (1929) featuring the Dorsey Brothers, Mannie Klein (trumpet), and Artie Schutt (piano).
Annette Hanshaw was also a superior interpreter of torch songs. The sweetness in her voice imparted a wistful, innocent charm that made her ballad singing very convincing. Her December 1929 recording of one of that year's biggest songs, "If I Had A Talking Picture Of You," is a perfect example. She is accompanied by Mannie Klein on trumpet, and James P. Johnson and Clarence Williams, both on piano.
Annette Hanshaw could also perform a variety of convincing voice characterizations. One of the performers that she could flawlessly imitate was "The Boop-a-Doop Girl" Helen Kane. After Kane's 1928 recording of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" shot up the charts, Columbia Records released a competing version of the same song, sung by Annette Hanshaw but credited to "Dot Dare" and released on Columbia's budget label Diva. After Hanshaw's first "Dot Dare" records were released, angry Victor Records executives demanded to know why Helen Kane had been making records for another company! After being convinced that Dot Dare was not Helen Kane, they were left with the task of discovering who this amazing imitation celebrity really was. Later it was reported that upon first hearing the Dot Dare records, Helen Kane remarked, "Annette sounds more like me than I do!"
(Annette pictured with Pee Wee Hunt and Kenny Sargent, vocalists with the Casa Loma Orchestra, from the Camel Caravan radio program, 1934) Despite her overwhelming popularity with radio and record-buying audiences, Hanshaw eventuall tired of the grind of show business. The downturn in record sales in the early 1930's forced her to concentrate on radio, and even though she remained a popular attraction on variety and music programs (even earning the coveted "girl vocalist" slot on the popular Camel Caravan broadcast, headlined by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra), by the end of 1937 she was no longer performing on network radio. Her last commercial recordings were made in 1934. Hanshaw had married Herman Rose, the music executive who first discovered her, some years earlier and lived comfortably in retirement, only performing occasionally for family and close friends. She died in 1985.
Here is Annette Hanshaw's only appearance on film, from the short film Captain Henry's Showboat, a film adaptation of the popular Maxwell House Showboat radio program, from 1933: