Dolly Kay: Hard-Hearted Hannah

Dolly Kay (Dora Kirschenbaum, 1900-1981) was a vaudeville and nightclub singer whose greatest fame came through recordings. She also performed under the names Margaret White and Sally Freeman. At the end of her life she was known by her married name, Dolly Ricco. Kay played the Orpheum circuit throughout the 1920s, and was recording for Columbia by 1921. Her significance lies in the fact that she was one of the first white women to include black blues and hot jazz numbers in her set. She is most associated with the song, “Hard Hearted Hannah” and also “You’ve Got to See Mama Ev’ry Night (Or YOu Can’t See Mama At All), also a hit for Sophie Tucker. (Kay recorded the number with Frank Westphal, who’d been Tucker’s husband, collaborator, and vaudeville partner for a time). Phil Phillips was Kay’s accompanist throughout the ’20s and ’30s. After vaudevile dried up she mostly played nightclubs in Chicago and elsewhere through the 1940s. In 1965 she played a tribute show to Fifi D’Orsay, her last known performance.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,