Elisse Cooper

Honey blonde vocalist Elisse Cooper sang with several name bands in the late 1930s and early 1940s. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, conflicting accounts exist of Cooper’s early career. One report claims she worked five years with local bands, while another states that she started singing at age 17 on local radio. Yet another article claims that she worked around New York and Boston before getting her big break, which is probably closer to the truth, as she was in Boston in late 1937 when she may have been part of Charlie Barnet’s band. She was romantically linked to Barnet at that time.[1]

In early 1938, Cooper joined the Hudson-DeLange orchestra, though soon after her arrival Will Hudson and Eddie DeLange dissolved their partnership, and she stayed with DeLange, with whom she made her first recordings. In early 1939, DeLange’s orchestra became part of Phil Baker’s CBS radio program, where Cooper received billing as a featured vocalist. The program also included the Andrews Sisters. Cooper remained with DeLange through at least August 1939. In December 1939, she joined Tony Pastor’s new band, staying until March 1940. Cooper then perhaps worked on NBC radio, as gossip columns that year linked her with network announcer Nelson Case.

During mid-1941, Cooper sang at a night club in York, Pennsylvania. While in the area, she took up flying lessons and made her first solo flight in early July. She left York that month to visit her mother in Columbia. Returning to York in September, she formed a vocal quartet with locals Bob Gibbons and brothers Eugene and William Knaub. Calling themselves Elisse Cooper and the Rhythmites, they headed to New York. Bob Chester hired the group in April 1942 and featured them with his band, though he couldn’t decide what to call them, billing them variously as the Rhythm Aires, Three Lads and Elisse Cooper, or the Four Notes. They didn’t stay long. Cooper and the Knaub brothers left Chester at the start of June and returned to New York. Gibbons, also a guitarist, remained with Chester’s band as a musician.

Cooper didn’t have to wait long before landing her next job, joining Chico Marx’s band in June. She remained with Marx until October, when she became part of Ben Bernie’s CBS radio program. Bernie claimed to have won her in a game of gin rummy with Marx. Marx’s band settled in Chicago for a long run that month, however, and Cooper may have wanted to remain in New York. She stayed on Bernie’s show through at least January 1943.

In May 1943, Cooper joined Jan Savitt’s orchestra, replacing Betty Bonney. Shortly after she arrived, however, Cooper announced her plan to marry and retire as soon as Savitt could find a suitable replacement, but when her husband-to-be, Gracie Barrie saxophonist Gabe Gelinas, received his draft notice a few days later she changed her mind and decided to stay with Savitt another six months before getting married and starting a solo career. She and Gelinas wanted to wait until life had settled down a bit before tying the knot.[2] Cooper was still with Savitt in September. He disbanded in October in anticipation of taking a band overseas on a USO tour, but when the tour plans fell through he reorganized. It’s unknown if Cooper became part of the new band.

Cooper disappeared after working with Savitt. Down Beat magazine asked her whereabouts in August 1944 but received no reply. She and Gelinas married, and the couple settled in the Chicago area after the war. In June 1946, Cooper gave birth to a son. In May 1947, both she and Galinas were working with a trio led by drummer and comedian Red Maddock. By early 1948, Maddock had formed a seven-piece band called the Dead End Kids, a comedy musical group who dressed like characters from the popular series of films with the same name, with Cooper and Gelinas part of the outfit as well.

Tragedy struck in August 1948 when Gelinas was involved in an automobile accident near Freeport, Illinois. He received a broken arm in the crash, and though doctors could find nothing else wrong with him he remained under almost constant care afterwards and passed away in August 1950. According to Cooper, he suffered shock from the accident and was never himself again. He was bedridden the last four months of his life, unable to eat properly. He died of malnutrition.


  1. Steamship arrival documents from August 1940 list Cooper’s age as 22, giving her a birth year of 1917 or 1918. ↩︎

  2. Cooper and Gelinas had met while both were in Chico Marx’s band. ↩︎


  1. Knotts, Harry. “Three Hemorrhages Can't Stop Gutty Brass Man.” Down Beat Aug. 1937: 29.
  2. Winchell, Walter. “On Broadway.” The Ogdensburg Advance-News [Ogdensburg, New York] 2 Jul. 1938: 4.
  3. “On The Air.” The Circleville Daily Herald [Circleville, Ohio] 3 Jan. 1939: 3.
  4. “Set Baker Cast.” Billboard 7 Jan. 1939: 5.
  5. Ferris, Earle. “Right out of the Air.” Santa Rosa News [Santa Rosa, New Mexico] 3 Mar. 1939: 8.
  6. Advertisement. “Let's Dance Dance Dance.” Down Beat Apr. 1939: 29.
  7. “Vaudeville Reviews: State, New York.” Billboard 29 Apr. 1939: 24.
  8. Advertisement. “The Pier.” The Bradford Era [Bradford, Pennsylvania] 20 Jul. 1939: 5.
  9. Sansing, Billy and C.O. Brown. “I'm in a Dancing Mood.” The Austin Texan 6 Aug. 1939: 3.
  10. “Here's the Tony Pastor Lineup.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1940: 11.
  11. Winchell, Walter. “On Broadway.” The High Point Enterprise [High Point, North Carolina] 20 Feb. 1940: 4.
  12. “Tony Pastor Grabs Blonde Kay Foster.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1940: 1.
  13. Sampas, Charles G. “Cavalcade.” The Lowell Sun [Lowell, Massachusetts] 2 Jun. 1939: 18.
  14. Kilgallen, Dorothy. “The Voice of Broadway.” Mansfield News-Journal [Mansfield, Ohio] 20 Sep. 1940: 13.
  15. “York Club Singer Makes First Solo Flight Here.” The Hanover Evening Sun [Hanover, Pennsylvania] 10 Jul. 1941: 1.
  16. Advertisement. “Ben Yost, Inc.” Billboard 27 Dec. 1941: 67.
  17. “Four Chirps to Chester Combo.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1942: 2.
  18. “On Her Way to Panther Room.” Down Beat 1 May 1942: 2.
  19. “Who's Who in Music: Bob Chester's Band.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1942: 9.
  20. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1942: 4.
  21. Advertisement. “Capitol.” The Manitowoc Herald-Times [Manitowoc, Wisconsin] 17 Jun. 1942: 9.
  22. “and this is the navy, mates.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1942: 12.
  23. “On the Air: Chico Marx.” Billboard 7 Nov. 1942: 22.
  24. Subotnik, Nadine. “Radio.” The Cedar Rapids Gazette 18 Nov. 1942: 12.
  25. “Gorgeous Gale On the Cover.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1942: 1.
  26. “Are Ya Listenin?” Mason City Globe-Gazette [Mason City, Iowa] 26 Dec. 1942: 5.
  27. “Bernie Wins Her Via Gin Rummy Route.” Mason City Globe-Gazette [Mason City, Iowa] 9 Jan. 1943: 11.
  28. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1943: 19.
  29. Advertisement. “Jan Savitt.” Billboard 15 May 1943: 24.
  30. “Elisse Cooper Plans to Wed.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1943: 2.
  31. “Elisse Cooper Defers Bridal, Joins Glaser.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1943: 2.
  32. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1943: 5.
  33. McLean, Frank. “WHMA.” The Anniston Star 10 Sep. 1943: 2.
  34. “Jan Savitt Band Figured to Fold.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1943: 1.
  35. “Savitt Band Re-organized.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1943: 1.
  36. “Elisse And Gabe In North Dakota.” Down Beat 7 May 1947: 1.
  37. “Joe Curley Will Open Saturday at Casino Moderne.” Southeast Economist [Chicago, Illinois] 8 Jan. 1948: 8.
  38. Advertisement. “Gussie's Kentucky.” Southeast Economist [Chicago, Illinois] 8 Jan. 1948: 8.
  39. “Gabe Gelinas Dies In Chicago.” Down Beat 25 Aug. 1950: 14.
  40. “New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:24L3-QZG : 2 March 2021), Elisse Cooper, 1940; citing Immigration, New York, New York, United States, NARA microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  41. “United States, Social Security Numerical Identification Files (NUMIDENT), 1936-2007”, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6KSK-589T : 10 February 2023), Elisse Cooper in entry for John Joseph Gelinas.