As a very young child growing up in Brooklyn, I have vivid memories of being taken to the movies by my mother. Too small to go alone. I was brought to watch the greatest performers of the silver screen--Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, and countless others. The war had come to a smoldering end, and what had sustained so many durring that difficult time both at home and overseas was not only movies, but the extraordinary music that came from those movies. They were brilliant songs that let people escape from their lives for a little while.
I was no different--I fantasiized that I was being crooned to by Bing, that I was singing with Judy, that Fred was whirlming me lightly around the dance floor in his white tie and tails. Well into the 1950s, this music provided a backdrop to my life--it WAS my life. I sought adolescent solace in the words of Gershwin, quietly laughed to myself at Porter\'s timeless lyrics, and silently thanked what Tom Brokaw has so eloquently dubbed \"The Greatest Generation\" for being, in fact, so great. And now, thanks to the advent of American Movie Classics and the Turner Movie Channel, millions of new young fans of this music are cropping up all over, coast to coast.
I\'m thrilled to see that movie music didn\'t just cease with the Eisenhower admnistration. And so, here you\'ll find newer classics as well as the older ones that came from the movies. From Gershwin to Quincy Jones and Percy Sledge, the tradition continues, as the next generation discovers the power and delight I\'ve experienced in these songs that have graced my life. They were all sung by shadowy images on a silver screen, but when I close my eyes, I\'m a child again, dancing in the arms of Fred Astaire, while the world drifts by. So join me: close your eyes, and let this music transport you the way it has me. -- Rita Ellis Hammer
When the petite, elegant, bird-like lady walks out on stage and stands in the spotlight, chances are she\'ll have you expecting some delicate crooning.
Not on your life.
Rita Ellis Hammer could fill a room the size of Radio City Music Hall with her voice alone--no microphone necessary. This is one of those prodigious, force-of-nature sounds, a Broadway belt, a Mermanesque vibrato and High Brooklynese enunciation that are not for the faint of heart. Prepare to be walloped.
Rita is, quite simply, a thrilling performer. And she is literally a blast from the past, recalling a style of singing that predated amplification and found its home in the theatres and music halls of a bygone New York. Listening to her is a little like hearing Merman in \"Girl Crazy\" in 1930, or traveling even further back in time to Proctor\'s and swilling beer while a dame swathed in a boa and a bustier belted out barroom ballads. It\'s a sound that has practically vanished today, replaced by nasal, rock-inspired shrieking that bombards us from too many Broadway and cabaret stages.
Rita has been singing ever since she was a Flatbush toddler, and was billed as Baby Rita when she performed on New York radio programs as a baby belter. Her success continued into television\'s Golden Age, when she was a regular on New York TV Variety programs. She took a long time out to raise her family, and now she\'s back with a voice that has lost not an ounce of power.
Clearly, this lady has a great sense of humor about her flying cannonball of a sound. \"When my daughter was little and I\'d try to sing her a lullaby,\" she recounts, \"she\'d put her fingers in her ears and say \'No Mommy, no! Too loud!\'\" Rita\'s brassy belt was never meant to be wasted on such sweet stuff.
Long may she roar!
--Eric Myers, former cabaret critic, Time Out New York