He was born in Louisville, Ky., the only place his father could find textile work during the Great Depression. After living there for only one year, the family made their way back to North Carolina, living in 36 different addresses in cities across the state: Burlinton, Shelby, Rutherfordton, Mooresville, Rockingham, and others.
In those days, Hanna had no intention of becoming a musician. He had started playing the piano in first and second grade, but did not start playing again until he was 25. He picked up the trombone in the sixth grade, but after three different schools in three years, all without a band, he fell out of practice.
Back in Mooresville in the tenth grade, he joined the band, having to play catch-up with his friends, who had been playing since the sixth grade.
After high school, Hanna wasn’t sure on a career, and was accepted at Davidson College, where he began business school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” Hanna said. “I didn’t want to be a preacher, and I didn’t want to be a doctor, so the only thing left was to be a businessman.”
By the end of his junior year, Hanna’s grades weren’t up to snuff, and in 1954, he was drafted into the army.
At Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., Hanna got started in the army band, avoiding heavy weapons or infantry duty. And one night, he heard some music.
“I got inspired one night, because I heard some fellows playing in the barracks, they were jamming you know, playing jazz,” Hanna said.