Hard-Hearted Hannah

My mother loved to sing, in the church choir or just for fun. She sang all the time, singing along with the radio or record player, or just a cappella. I especially remember her singing while doing the housework. She sang all kinds of songs, including hymns, show tunes, jazz, TV jingles, and pop songs from Kate Smith to Herman’s Hermits.

But Hard-Hearted Hannah is the song my sister and I always refer to as “Ma’s big number.” I remember she especially liked to sing this one while vacuuming in rhythm. We found this song slightly thrilling and embarrassing, what with lyrics like this:

An evening spent with Hannah sittin’ on your knees
Is like travelin’ through Alaska in your BVDs


This song is not well-known today, but it was a standard in its day, written in 1927 and recorded or performed on TV by quite a variety of singers: Ray Charles, Nancy Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Bea Arthur, Carol Burnett, Sophie Tucker and Peggy Lee, among many others. But my favorite performance, and the one I think my mother would have chosen, is by the great Ella Fitzgerald. Here she sings it in the 1955 movie, “Pete Kelley’s Blues,” starring Jack Webb:

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