I’m always fascinated by the odd and interesting details that turn up when I dig into the stories of entertainers from the past. A good example is vocalist Annette Hanshaw, who was considered one of the best of the early jazz singers. Turns out she was also someone who fibbed about her age by a wide margin, sang under many different names, and retired from music way too soon.
When native New Yorker Catherine Annette Hanshaw began her rise to fame in the mid-1920s, part of the attraction was everyone’s amazement at how a girl of sixteen could sound so polished. However, she was actually in her mid-twenties at the time, a fact that didn’t come to light until long after her death in 1985. But even if the singer who became known as the Personality Girl fooled everybody about her age, there was no denying the quality of her voice. Her lilting singing style and signature ‘that’s all’ at the end of most songs seemed to fit in perfectly with the mood of the early jazz age, an era during which everybody seemed to be living it up.
It was also a period that featured the rising popularity of records, and she was one of the early stars although things worked a little differently at that time, or at least they did where she was concerned. Even though she made most of her records as Annette Hanshaw, there were apparently some who thought different types of music needed to be attributed to other names. For example, for some of her sweet and sentimental songs she was billed as Gay Ellis, and on other types of songs she might be Janet Shaw, Ethel Bingham, Marion Lee, or Lelia Sandford.
In any case, she made a lot of records and worked with a lot of rising stars, including Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, and Red Nichols, but by the early 1930s she was beginning to envision a life outside of music. She retired from the business in 1934, and pretty much stayed retired for the next half-century (although it’s said she did make a couple of demo records, years later).