SEARCH FOR THE ELUSIVE HANNAH FAY IS SUCCESSFUL
By Kat Bergeron, Sense of Place
Hannah Fay mesmerizes the music experts at Sun Records, where she is in the middle of a recording session. It's 1957 and this is the same Memphis studio where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and others got their
start. Her confident, sensual voice defies her 16 years, her lack of formal training and an inborn shyness.
"There's a sun up in the sky. Rising each day new. A moon
to light the darkest night. In a heaven blue. Oh, so many mysteries. I may learn a few. Though I'll never understand. The miracle of you".
The brunette - 100 pounds,
5-foot-1 with an 18-inch waist and gorgeous - doesn't miss a beat. The recording is definitely saleable in this era of bluesy-country singers and 45 records.
Miracle Of You" was never released remains a mystery. What is known is that it and another song, "24 Hours Every Day", became buried in a wealth of masters and demos of other 1950s singers who tried to break into the male-dominated Sun Records.
Several months ago Hank Davis, a music journalist and former recording artist who specializes in that era, discovered Hannah's masters in the Sun vaults while researching an upcoming release
of "Memphis Belles: The Women of Sun Records".
The Canadian psychology professor was working with Bear Family Records of Germany for an six CD boxed set and book that
features 35 singers and more than 150 songs that he culled from Sun archives to bring to life the music of these little-known singers. This boxed set was released in 2002.
Fay, merely a name scrawled on the outside of the tape box, demanded to be found. In Hank's words: "Her music was cause for celebration, two good songs, with solid performances by both the vocalist and her sidemen. It is clear that Hannah could effortlessly
embrace both country and blues material into a crossover pop style".
One thread led to South Mississippi. Hank recognized "Miracle" as a song written by M.M. "Pee Wee"
Maddux Jr., who with two Biloxians, owned the Fine Record Company.
Thinking that meant Hannah might be from here, Hank called The Sun Herald with his history mystery.
There were no quick answers, but after following dozens of unsuccessful leads, I asked our readers for help.
At 5:26 p.m. on the Sunday my column pleaded, "Where are
you, Hannah Fay?" my phone rang. It was Howard Harger of Biloxi, who suspected she was his long-lost cousin from Louisiana. The irony here was that Pee Wee's daughter suggested Hannah might be a Harger, and Hank had phoned dozens of Hargers in the South east
before giving up.
Howard's military travels caused him to lose touch, but he thought he could track her down: "But I'll only let you find Hannah if she gives me the permission.
She may not want to be found".
My heart sank. What if she wanted anonymity? I, too, was captured by her music and felt compelled to join Hank's search. The clock ticked
loudly but within an hour, the Hannah hunt ended as we chatted on the phone. She admitted that she didn't mind being found - with reservations.
"Could you perhaps just
say that you found me, happily married 42 years with two sons and seven grandchildren?" she suggested. "We have a great, quiet life here, full of family, and we don't want anything to jeopardize that".
Hannah - she long ago dropped the Fay - quit singing in 1960. She'd been appearing on Baton Rouge television and radio since she was 11. In her early teens she did the country music circuit that was budding in the Deep South,
but always under the watchful eye of a mother who lived her own love of music through young Hannah. After studies at Louisiana State University and marriage, the singer stopped to concentrate on being a wife.
"I didn't have a fire burning in me to be a star", Hannah reflected with the wisdom of 62 years. Pee Wee and his partners Yankie Barhonovich and Prof Carpenter, however, had great faith in her talent, and they released two other
records by "Hana Faye" on the Fine label. At the Sun recordings session in Memphis, Hannah remembers "they were talking like they'd turn me into a female Elvis".
it music politics that kept her Sun songs from release, or something her manager mother said or did? That question likely will never be answered because it is not in Hannah's memory. One of her recordings, "Searching For Someone Like You", was heard by Kitty
Wells, who sang it herself and turned it into a hit, relegating Hannah's original to the dustbin.
Her last performance was at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, then she
settled down in an old farmhouse on 12 acres in east central Louisiana where she and her banker husband share a passion for antique hunting.
"As I was raising my family,
I didn't think a great deal about that part of my life", she admitted. "I always enjoyed it when someone would remember me and recall 'Li'l Hannah Fay', but she was somewhere back there in my past". "However, as I have gotten older, she had begun to creep
back little by little. I wanted to reach back and recall those days - to visit them and remember. I called the radio stations and TV stations last year to inquire about tapes or anything that they might have. I hit a dead and everywhere I turned and finally
told myself that it was hopeless.
So, when my cousin Howard called and read your article, it touched me in a way you cannot imagine. It valilated that little girl that
I had lost somewhere in the middle of living my life".