The daughter of an Army surgeon and a native of Carmi, Illinois, singer Anita Boyer began her career at age 14 on radio station WMSK in Dayton, Ohio, before moving to Chicago, where she studied voice at Northwestern University. While still in college, she signed with bandleader Frankie Masters as a regular on the NBC Jamboree. She soon began appearing on other radio shows for that network and later for Mutual, including Funnybone Follies and Broadway Cinderella. She also sang on the New York theater circuit.
In 1934, Boyer, variously described as a redhead and a brunette, married trumpet player Dick Barrie and in April 1936 left her singing job on Chicago radio station WGN to join his new band, which had launched in February, when it opened at the Jefferson Hotel in St. Louis. Boyer recorded several sides with her husband’s orchestra in 1938 and was featured on their radio program, where she often announced the numbers. She stayed with the band through the summer of 1939, when she quit during an engagement in Pittsburgh. The couple subsequently separated and divorced in late 1941.
In October 1939, Boyer signed with Tommy Dorsey, replacing Edythe Wright. Boyer auditioned for Dorsey in New York when he returned for a record date after several one-nighters, and she left with the band to open in Atlanta the next day. She stayed with Dorsey only two months, leaving in January 1940. Reports at the time indicated Paramount wanted her for a screen test, and in July the studio announced Boyer’s name as among those signed to do musical short subjects for the 1940-1941 season.
In April 1940, Boyer was rehearsing with a new band being put together under Nat Shilkret’s name but by July was singing with Leo Reisman. She joined Artie Shaw in September, saying at the time that she was through “bouncing around” from one band to another and intended to “stay put” in Shaw’s group. Shaw disbanded his outfit in early 1941, however, and she went back to Reisman again before concentrating on work as a single in the latter half of the year. On her own, she appeared on CBS and NBC radio and cut several sides for Columbia’s Okeh subsidiary in the fall.
In December 1941, Boyer recorded a failed attempt at adding the Pepsi jingle to jukeboxes. Backed by Johnny Fosdick’s orchestra, the disk, released on the fictitious Nocturne label, featured an original tune, “Get Hep,” on the A-side, while the B-side featured a non-branded version of the company’s current commercial tune, called “Swinging the Jingle.” Both songs surreptitiously included mentions of Pepsi in the lyrics. Machine operators saw through the blatant attempt at promotion and refused to order the disk.
Also in December 1941, Boyer began touring on a bill headlined by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, spending Christmas with them at the Strand Theater in Syracuse, New York. In January 1942, Boyer filmed a soundie under how own name for Minoco in which she sang a very patriotic version of “Hi, Neighbor.” She was still touring with the Casa Loma Orchestra when she joined Shaw imitator Jerry Wald in May. While with the band in October of that year, she became the victim of theft at the Hotel Carter in Cleveland. Thieves stole $1800 in jewelry, $100 in war bonds, and two bankbooks from her suitcase. None of the articles were insured.
Boyer left Wald at the beginning of 1943 to focus on radio and recordings. In February, New York station WOR signed her for a regular singing spot on its Keep Ahead show, with Ray Block and his band providing music. Reports at that time also had her signing with the newly-announced Lion label, though her manager indicated in Down Beat magazine that she was still under contract to Columbia. Early that year as well, she appeared in another soundie for Minoco, “He’s 1-A in the Army and He’s A-1 in My Heart.”
Boyer was the consummate professional. From late 1942 into 1944, she wrote a series of columns for Down Beat called “Boyer’s Browsings” in which she gave advice on such topics as how to get started as a singer and how to have a happy marriage in the music business. She also hinted at gossip and opined about various events happening within the world of big bands. Boyer wasn’t shy about calling out those who needed to be called out, especially bandleaders who mistreated their musicians and vocalists. In addition, she offered constructive criticism to other vocalists, sometimes by name, giving them such advice as not to hide their faces behind the microphone when singing or not to wear gaudy dresses.
In May of 1943, Boyer did temporary vocal duties for Bobby Sherwood’s new orchestra when it was called to fill in for one week at the Paramount Theater in New York. In July of that year, she began appearing on CBS and then married sax player Bob Dukoff, whom she had met while they both were members of Wald’s group. The couple tied the knot in Toledo, and Boyer retired from singing. She returned to the stage briefly in October, filling in temporarily as vocalist for Hal McIntyre’s orchestra when Helen Ward went out ill and did not return to the band.
1944 and Beyond
In mid-1944, Boyer came out of retirement to join her husband in Jimmy Dorsey’s band. The couple both left in November, settling on the West Coast where Dukoff planned to organize a small band and Boyer wanted to focus on transcriptions and radio work. In mid-1945, she sang and recorded with Hoagy Carmichael’s orchestra and then joined Harry James in November, replacing the departing Kitty Kallen. She stayed only a month-and-a-half, leaving in January 1946 when James announced a six-week vacation.
Shortly after leaving James, Boyer recorded, along with Peggy Lee, promotional platters for the new Walt Disney animated feature Make Mine Music. In March 1946, she sang for Opie Cates’ new dance band and recorded with Red Nichols. Boyer retired from singing again soon after, giving birth to a daughter, Dedra, on May 17, 1947. She made a return to activity in mid-1948 when she signed with Tempo Records, recording several numbers on the label.
Boyer began a new career as songwriter in the 1950s, working with her husband and others. Dukoff’s orchestra recorded one of their numbers in conjunction with Ray Charles. Country music star Grandpa Jones recorded another of Boyer’s songs.
Boyer was singing on the night club circuit in 1951. She had her own radio program on the Mutual network in 1952 and 1953, and in 1953 she recorded with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. As the mid-50s rolled around, she began to sing more blues-oriented tunes. In 1955, she released two R&B styled songs on Columbia and was touring the night club circuit with husband Dukoff’s band as late as 1958.
Anita Boyer passed away in 1984.