MaryBelle Johns Nissly
Conducted by Captain MaryBelle J. Nissly, the Women in the Air Force "WAF" Band created a unique and
exceptional chapter in US Air Force and women's history. Formed in 1951 to assist in Air Force recruiting and
to entertain members of the Armed Forces, The "WAF" Band was one of the few places women could perform as professional
musicians. For ten glorious years The WAF Band performed in countless parades and concerts for the pleasure of thousands
of music lovers who had the opportunity to hear the all-woman band. The
WAF Band was deactivated in October 1961 due to cut-backs in WAF and the
military program at the end of the Korean Conflict.
A mid '50s picture of the WAF band in concert.
Unique in the Air Force, The WAF Band remains unique today; as the only all-woman former military band still
performing. The WAF Band continues to give concerts at its reunions. The 50th Anniversary was held in
Washington, DC in May 2001. More information about her career in the WAF
band is available at the Web sites.
In 1965, MaryBelle Nissly was assigned to the Little Rock Air Force Base as a
personnel officer and immediately became involved in the musical life of the
community. She retired as major from the Air Force in July 1968, and began
a new career teaching music at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. As
assistant professor of music, she started with organizing and directing the
university's first Chamber Orchestra. She directed the UALR Band for two
years before organizing the orchestra. She was also an international
leader in the development and arrangement of hand bell music, which she
taught. The UALR Bell Choir and Recorder Consort gave numerous programs at
schools, churches and clubs throughout the city and county, including Musical
Johns Nissly was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John F. Nissly of Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, and was born on May 1, 1918. She was the first girl drum
major and student band director of the Littitz, Pennsylvania high school.
Later she earned B.S. and M.A. degrees in music education at Westchester
(Pennsylvania) State College and the University of Pennsylvania. Her
death on July 30, 1999, at Parkway Health Center in Little Rock saddened all of
the women of the WAF Band as well as her former students, friends and family
throughout the country. Her memorial service was held on August 4th at the
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock. Her ashes were interred at the
national cemetery there.