Illustration by Gary Price:
Catherine Annette Hanshaw was born October 18, 1901, in New York City. Born into a relatively well-to-do family, she sang at hotels owned by her father and demonstrated sheet music at the family-owned music store in Mount Kisco, New York.
Her professional music career was launched when Annette was paid to sing at parties. In 1926, she began to get radio work and recorded a still-extant demo for Pathé, accompanying herself on piano. She made records for Pathé Actuelle and Perfect over the next two years, including sides featuring Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Phil Napoleon, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Adrian Rollini, and others. Her Pathé contract ended in 1928 but she married Pathé executive Herman “Wally” Rose in 1929.
In 1928, she began recording for Columbia and its subsidiary labels Harmony, Diva, and Velvet Tone. Most of her recording was for the subsidiaries, and much of it (particularly when offering her uncanny imitation of Helen Kane) was pseudonymous.
Her mellifluous, unaffected singing style belied a fierce, self-critical perfectionism and a severe shyness. She regarded her records, now highly prized by collectors, as “terrible.” “I was most unhappy when they were released. I just often cried because I thought they were so poor.” She worked in radio regularly from 1929 onward, despite almost crippling mike fright. “I’m so afraid I’ll fail, not sing my best. Suppose I should have to cough. Suppose I didn’t get just the right pitch. And all those people listening.”
After success on such programs as The Maxwell House Showboat, and consistently placing at or near the top in radio popularity polls, Annette Hanshaw ceased all professional recording in 1934 and left radio entirely in 1937. She still sang for her own enjoyment, and home recordings exist of her singing such songs as “Fly Me to the Moon.” Apart from giving occasional interviews, she vigilantly maintained her personal privacy for nearly fifty years.
Annette Hanshaw died after a long illness on March 13, 1985. In the years since, reissues of her recordings on CD introduced her to a new and appreciative generation of fans. In 2008, her music was an integral part of Nina Paley’s award-winning animated feature film Sita Sings the Blues. —Andy Senior
This is what our print edition feels like. If you want good news to read with your morning coffee, order a print subscription. You’ll get full online access to our archives, web extras, and our next issue will arrive at your door. Online only access to all of our original material is also available! Support Hot Jazz Journalism- Subscribe