The only child of divorced parents, Anita Ellsperman started playing the cornet when she was in grade school. “Nitz” graduated from Edwardsville High School in 1939, joking that she was leaving in order to compose music for Benny Goodman. In reality she enrolled at the James Millikin Conservatory in Decatur.
Anita earned a chair in Phil Spitalny’s All-Girl Orchestra in 1943. The group performed a live radio show broadcast by CBS from Detroit, Michigan. The show, which aired on Sunday afternoons, was called the “Hour of Charm.” Spitalny and his orchestra also performed at venues across the country. It was a glamorous life.
“Anita Ellsperman … was my idol when I was a kid — I wanted to be in show biz — she traveled all over the USA and came to Edwardsville High School while the orchestra was in St. Louis. She played her trumpet & I was so excited to meet her. She visited her relatives & then hit the road again.”
— Pauline Meyer, October 17, 1994, letter accompanying her donation of the Favorite Melodies from the Hour of Charm record set.
Anita continued playing with the All-Girl Orchestra even after marrying Joseph Wechsler, a bakery equipment designer, in 1948. Fellow band members served as bridesmaids in the Temple Rodeph Sholom ceremony in New York City.
This four-record set features sacred and patriotic pieces like “Ave Maria” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It is the group’s second album. The Hour of Charm All-Girl Orchestra and Choir recorded at least one subsequent album, a collection of Christmas carols.
Listen to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” on Favorite Melodies from the Hour of Charm.
Alton city directories. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
Anita May Ellsperman guardianship documents. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
The Billboard, Volume 57, Number 28 (July 14, 1945).
Decatur Daily Review. Various articles.
Discogs. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.discogs.com/
Edwardsville Intelligencer. Various articles.
The Tiger 1939: Yearbook of Edwardsville High School. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
United States census records and other public records.