Harlem Hannah

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It looks good on paper, the name Harlem Hannah, a perfect stage name for a classic blues singer, her material perhaps a little on the tawdry side. The name fits perfectly into the lineup on a compilation…
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Artist Biography by

It looks good on paper, the name Harlem Hannah, a perfect stage name for a classic blues singer, her material perhaps a little on the tawdry side. The name fits perfectly into the lineup on a compilation entitled Mean Mothers/Independent Women's Blues, Vol. 1, Harlem Hannah espousing a tough philosophy as in "Keep Your Nose Out of Mama's Business." Even when the listener does not follow the latter advice and finds out the true details about this artist, her inclusion in this compilation still seems sound. After all, who can possibly be more independent than someone who doesn't really exist?

The Bluebird label originally released a few sides under the Harlem Hannah moniker in the early '30s, not the only example of an artist signing onto this label's impressive roster under an alias. The true identities of some of these characters, bluesman Lane Hardin for example, have yet to be determined. In the case of Harlem Hannah, a Jim Rockford-quality detective would not be required to figure out what went on. Simply looking at the songwriting credits for the aforementioned ditty or a tribute to "A Guy What Takes His Time" will suffice. The Peg English that is identified in said credits would be Peggy English, hitmaker from the previous decade. She is most certainly the person singing on these recordings as well, having long since proven on dance band stages that she had more than enough vocal chops to pull off such a radical stylistic alteration. For the new decade, however briefly, she became Harlem Hannah.

Previously, she had also recorded under a lot of other names as well: she was Peggy Britten, she was Lillie Daltry, she was Nora West. Returning to the aforementioned compilation theme, she may not have been a "mean mother" but she sure liked to record as someone other. The independent feminist philosophies of any of these many recording personalities shouldn't be questioned, though some purists may want to blacklist Harlem Hannah from the roster of classic blues artists untainted by the dance band mentality of the era.