She is a member of America’s oldest theatrical club, The Lambs established in 1874, and those fellow Lambs who have been fortunate enough to hear talented singer and cabaret performer, Rita Ellis Hammer in performance, can certainly tell you that she is, without a doubt, “a belter!” I once asked Rita about this as I explained that her powerful voice and delivery sometimes reminds me of musical legend, Ethel Merman. I was not entirely surprised when she then shared with me that she had at one time studied under Miss Merman’s vocal coach, Al Siegel. (Rita also studied under Dinah Shore’s vocal coach, Jimmy Rich). Rita apparently learned her lessons well, and with her impressive voice she can easily fill a room without benefit of microphones. She gets plenty of practice as member and performer at both The Lambs and The Dutch Treat Club.
Rita’s considerable professional experience includes radio, television and, of course, live performance and recording. In radio she performed at age 5 on the Hearn’s Radio Show. She also performed on the Horn & Hardart Radio Hour, and on WNEW Radio Live with Art Ford.
Television work began at age 13 when she won the Silver Cup singing competition on the Joe Bolton Show. (Rita still has that trophy and calls it her Academy Award). She appeared on the Buddy Rogers Show, and was a featured singer on both the Discovery Channel’s Elder Skelter, and ABC’s Galen Drake Show, where she was a Saturday night regular for many months.
Rita has appeared at the famed Copacabana Lounge, and her other live performances included work as Big Band singer with Les & Larry Elgart, many cabaret performances at Delmonico’s Don’t Tell Mama, Judy’s, Danny’s, and even Town Hall’s Cabaret Convention. There has been no shortage of favorable reviews of her work around town in such publications as the New York Post, Backstage, Applause-Applause, The Free Press, Cabaret Scenes, and Time Out NY, where she was spotlighted as “Singer of the Month.”
A favorite memory for Rita is the night of her Press Party at Club 21. What she describes as “a wonderful day,” began in a Sherry Netherlands penthouse with the fashion attentions of an elegant woman flown in by Rogers & Cowen P.R. to consult on exactly what Rita would wear to her special party. Sometime late that day she had a pleasant brief encounter with Edward G. Robinson and regretted she couldn’t give him a lift to his destination as she would be late for the party, and he would be late to the theater for his performance in, The Middle of the Night.
At Club 21 Rita was introduced to such press icons as, Walter Winchell, Earl Wilson, Nick Kenny, and Harriet Van Horn. She appeared in many of their columns more than once, and still has the clippings to prove it. In the years that followed Rita has had many more adventures. Get her started and she may tell you about volunteering to perform in hospital AIDS wards, about meeting music legend, Paul Whitman, or perhaps about sharing a sandwich with Boris Karloff.
For those not able to see her in live performance, Rita has a wonderful CD of classic songs from cinema titled, “You Ought to Be in Pictures: Movie Tunes, Act 1.” Let’s hope there will soon be an Act II.