Hannah Welsh first appeared on the entertainment scene in Jamaica in the early 1900s as a young teenager singing at church sponsored functions. It has so far been impossible to identify her parents and background with any certainty; she may have come from the Buff Bay area, and was possibly related through her mother’s sister to a prominent Black family of teachers, pharmacists and businessmen – the Stewarts, of Mountainside, St Elizabeth. She apparently left for the United States in 1923, and disappeared from the Jamaican scene without a further trace. In the interval she had established a reputation across the island which made her one of Jamaica’s top sopranos of the day.
Her great break came when she was invited to join the 'Famous' Jamaica Choir on their second tour of the United Kingdom in 1907-8. In the Choir she was working with mature and experienced singers, like Adeline McDermott, and must have gained great confidence from performing in concert halls of various types all across Britain. By the time the Choir returned to Jamaica she was decidedly one of its stars.
In 1909 the Choir went on a triumphal tour around the island, and Miss Welsh was welcomed everywhere with great enthusiasm. She was encored at the concerts given in Kingston and the correspondent for the Jamaica Times wrote from Montego Bay, ‘There is great promise for the future in this young lady’s voice and it is a great pity that we have no one so philanthropic in Jamaica as to come forward and send her to Italy for special training.’ In June 1909, in Port Antonio, and January 1910, in Port Maria, Miss Welsh was presented with specially made and engraved gold medals in appreciation of her singing.
There is no doubt that until the early years of the First World War she was the most popular singer of light classical songs and the ballads of the day; in 1913 a reporter wrote of her performance at a concert in Kingston in aid of the Lucas Cricket Club - ‘The audience screamed their delight, and time and again Miss Welsh answered the encores which it seemed would never have ceased.’ She sang at a variety of secular concerts at Covent Gardens and Rockfort Gardens in Kingston, and at venues around the island. She was also a popular performer at church functions of a variety of denominations; in 1914, for example, she sang at the re-dedication services at the Friends’ Church at Hector’s River in Portland.
For most of 1915 and 1916 Miss Welsh gave no performances, possibly because deaths in her family kept her involved with the family’s concerns. From 1917 to 1923 she again appeared regularly, increasingly often at church functions, and at the J.UT. conference. She appeared in April 1923 at the annual conference of the Society of Friends at Hector’s River, where she sang backed by a Quartette from Buff Bay. She appeared in at least two other concerts, in July and August, and also at the movie theatre in Mandeville, along with Henry Nation and Granville Campbell. the Caruso of Jamaica.
At the end of August 1923 Hannah Maud Welsh arrived at Ellis Island, New York, from Port Antonio, on the ‘Princess May’. Her occupation was given as ‘domestic’; her age 31; race African, and her nearest relative, her aunt, Mrs A T Stewart of Half-Way-Tree. Her height was 5 feet and her complexion, eyes and hair all described as Black; she was born in Kingston. It is possible that she paid a brief visit to her homeland in 1939, but no comment on such a visit has been found. Essentially Hannah Welsh and her remarkable voice were not heard of again after 1923.