Annette Hanshaw: The Personality Girl

Singer Annette Hanshaw (1901-1985) was born in New York City on this day. Hanshaw was a niece of vaudeville performers Uke Henshaw and Nellie McCoy, sister of Bessie McCoy. Her father had been in the circus briefly, but ran hotels and a music store; Annette got her start singing for patrons of both. Despite her musical skill, she was shy about performing before the public and initially aspired to be a visual artist.

By the 20s, she had appeared on local radio (in Florida) and she began cutting records for Pathe in 1926; in 1928 she moved to Columbia. In addition to her own name, she recorded under many pseudonyms: Dot Dare, Gay Ellis, Patsy Young, Janet Shaw, Marion Lee, Ethel Bingham, and Lelia Sanford. In 1929, she began appearing regularly on national radio, with the nickname “The Personality Girl”. In 1932, she switched her label to the American Record Company (ARC) and became a regular on NBC’s Maxwell House Show Boat. Her recording career and the stint on Show Boat both ended in 1934. After this she appeared on radio sporadically through 1937, at which point she retired to spend time with her husband, record executive Wally Rose, whom she’d married in 1929. She made but a single film appearance, in the 1933 Paramount short Captain Henry’s Radio Show. 

Hanshaw’s range extended from torch songs to peppy hot jazz numbers, and she was known for playfully signing off some of her records by saying “That’s all!” She was highly prolific, recording upwards of 250 songs over her career, becoming one of the most popular singers of the 1930s, and selling over four million records. She was considered a principle rival to Ruth Etting, and was given out to the public to be ten years younger than she actually was.

Hanshaw had been vociferous in her dislike of show business all along. She was fond of jamming for fun, but hated the pressure of going on the air or laying down tracks, and was invariably disappointed when she heard herself on record, despite her popularity with the public. But despite all, she had gotten to perform with some of the greats during her decade-plus in professional show business: Rudy Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees, the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Jack TeagardenRed Nichols, the Original Memphis Five, and many others. She also played piano and uke herself, and would sometimes accompany herself on her numbers.

In 2008, over two decades after her death, her career was unexpectedly revived when a dozen of her most popular songs were used in the animated film Sita Sings the Blues. 

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