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Ray Conniff

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  • Born: Attleboro, MA
  • Died: Escondido, CA
  • Years Active: 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s


Biography All Music GuideWikipedia

All Music Guide:

The man who popularized wordless vocal choruses and light orchestral accompaniment on a mix of popular standards and contemporary hits of the 1960s, Ray Conniff was a trombone player for Bunny Berigan's Orchestra and Bob Crosby's Bobcats before being hired as an arranger by Mitch Miller for Columbia Records in 1954. After he wrote the charts for several sizeable Columbia hits during the mid-'50s, Conniff became a solo artist as well, applying his arranging techniques to instrumental easy listening for the booming adult album market. The result, 12 Top Ten LPs and well over 50 million total albums sold, cemented his status as one of the top LP sellers of all time, but his increasingly watered-down and commercially focused arrangements gained few young fans by the end of the '60s. Though he continued recording and touring the world into the '90s, Conniff's albums slipped off the charts in the early '70s.

Born in November 1916 in Attleboro, MA, Ray Conniff gained much of his musical experience inside the home. His father, a trombone player, led a local band, while his mother played the piano. Ray began leading a local band while in high school -- picking up the trombone for the first time not long before -- and began writing arrangements for it; after graduation, he moved to Boston and began playing with Dan Murphy's Musical Skippers (besides playing and arranging, Conniff drove the band around). By the mid-'30s, he was ready for the big time, landing in New York just after the birth of the fertile swing era. He comped around Manhattan for several years, and by 1937 landed an arranging/playing job with Bunny Berigan. Two years later, he moved to Bob Crosby's Bobcats, one of the hottest bands of the time, though Conniff stayed for only a year before joining up with Artie Shaw and later Glen Gray.

With the advent of American involvement in World War II by 1941, Conniff joined the Army, though the closest he came to Wake Island was Hollywood, where he worked as an arranger with Armed Forces Radio. At the end of the war, Conniff worked with Harry James but lost interest in arranging when bop moved to center stage during the late '40s. Completely divorced from the music business, he studied conducting and music theory during the early '50s, emerging by 1954 to accept a position with Columbia Records and notorious pop producer Mitch Miller. The following year, he put his theories to practice with Don Cherry (the vocalist, not the jazz trumpeter) on a Top Five hit, "Band of Gold." Close on its heels were some more big hits of 1956-1957, including the number ones "Singing the Blues" by Guy Mitchell and "Chances Are" by Johnny Mathis, plus Top Five entries by Johnnie Ray ("Just Walking in the Rain"), Frankie Laine ("Moonlight Gambler"), and Marty Robbins ("A White Sport Coat [And a Pink Carnation]"). Columbia, undoubtedly ecstatic over the success of its arranger, agreed to let Conniff record an instrumental album, and the result, 'S Wonderful (1956), spent months on the album charts. With a similar intent (though far tamer results) to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross' album of the same year, Sing a Song of Basie -- which transcribed classic Basie orchestra solos into vocal parts -- Conniff arranged parts for an easygoing chorus of singers just as he had with instrumentalists in the past. 'S Wonderful was background instrumental music for adults who still liked to hear the human voice, and the technique grew to define the "Muzaky" feel of much of the adult pop of the 1950s and '60s.

During the rest of the late '50s, four Ray Conniff albums reached the Top Ten, led by the gold-certified 'S Marvelous and Concert in Rhythm. Conniff did well in the early '60s as well, with popular theme albums like Say It with Music (A Touch of Latin), Memories Are Made of This, So Much in Love, 'S Continental, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, which continued to chart during the holiday season of the next six years after its 1962 release date. The rise of rock & roll in the mid-'60s obviously hurt Conniff's record sales, though in 1966 the inclusion of "Lara's Theme" in the film Doctor Zhivago resulted in Conniff's only significant singles-chart placing at number nine, and a million-selling album with Somewhere My Love. During the late '60s, he began to include the softer side of rock and Bacharach-David pop into his repertoire, with artists from Simon & Garfunkel to the Carpenters and the Fifth Dimension all receiving the Conniff treatment (alongside more questionable attempts, such as "Theme from 'Shaft'"). He continued to record albums and perform to his large Latin American audience into the '90s. On October 12, 2002, Conniff passed away after falling down and hitting his head. He had suffered a stroke months prior, but his health had continued to deteriorate. He was 85.


Joseph Raymond "Ray" Conniff, also known as "Jay Raye" (November 6, 1916 – October 12, 2002) was an American bandleader and arranger best known for his Ray Conniff Singers during the 1960s.


Biography1.1 Early career1.2 The Ray Conniff Singers1.3 Later years1.4 His death


Conniff was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts, and learned to play the trombone from his father. He studied music arranging from a course book.

Early career[edit]

After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II (where he worked under Walter Schumann), he joined the Artie Shaw big band and wrote many arrangements for him. After his stint with Shaw, he was then hired by Mitch Miller, then head of A&R at Columbia Records, as their home arranger, working with several artists including Rosemary Clooney, Marty Robbins, Frankie Laine, Johnny Mathis, Guy Mitchell and Johnnie Ray. He wrote a top 10 arrangement for Don Cherry's "Band of Gold" in 1955, a single that sold more than a million copies. Among the hit singles he backed with his orchestra (and eventually with a male chorus) were "Yes Tonight Josephine" and "Just Walkin' in the Rain" by Johnnie Ray; "Chances Are" and "It's Not for Me to Say" by Johnny Mathis; "A White Sport Coat" and "The Hanging Tree" by Marty Robbins; "Moonlight Gambler" by Frankie Laine; "Up Above My Head," a duet by Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray; and "Pet Me, Poppa" by Rosemary Clooney. He also backed up the albums Tony by Tony Bennett, Blue Swing by Eileen Rodgers, Swingin' for Two by Don Cherry, and half the tracks of The Big Beat by Johnnie Ray.

In these early years he also produced similar-sounding records for Columbia's Epic label under the name of Jay Raye (which stood for "Joseph Raymond") amongst them a backing album and singles with Somethin' Smith and the Redheads, an American male vocal group.

Between 1957 and 1968, Conniff had 28 albums in the American Top 40, the most famous one being Somewhere My Love (1966). He topped the album list in Britain in 1969 with His Orchestra, His Chorus, His Singers, His Sound, an album which was originally published to promote his European tour (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) in 1969. He also was the first American popular artist to record in Russia—in 1974 he recorded Ray Conniff in Moscow with the help of a local choir. His later albums like Exclusivamente Latino, Amor Amor, and Latinisimo made him very popular in Latin-American countries, even more so after performing in the Viña del Mar International Song Festival. In Brazil and Chile he was treated like a young pop superstar in the 1980s and 1990s when he was in his 70s and 80s. He even played live with his orchestra and eight-person chorus in large football stadiums as well as in Viña del Mar.

Conniff commented, "One time I was recording an album with Mitch Miller - we had a big band and a small choir. I decided to have the choir sing along with the big band using wordless lyrics. The women were doubled with the trumpets and the men were doubled with the trombones. In the booth Mitch was totally surprised and excited at how well it worked." Because of the success of his backing arrangements, Mitch Miller and the new sound Conniff created Miller allowed him to make his own record, and this became the successful "'s Wonderful!", a collection of standards that were recorded with an orchestra and a wordless singing chorus (four men, four women). He released many more albums in the same vein, including "'s Marvelous" (1959, gold album), "'s Awful Nice" (1958), "Concert in Rhythm" (1958, gold album), "Broadway in Rhythm" (1958), "Hollywood in Rhythm" (1959), "Concert in Rhythm, Vol. II" (1960), "Say It With Music" (1960), "Memories Are Made of This" (1960, gold album), and "'s Continental" (1962). His second album was "Dance the Bop!" (1957). It was an experiment by one of the brass at Columbia to cash in on a conceived dance step creation, but from the outset, Conniff diskiled it. When it sold poorly, he had it withdrawn from the market.

The Ray Conniff Singers[edit]

In 1959 he started The Ray Conniff Singers (12 women and 13 men) and released the album It's the Talk of the Town. This group brought him the biggest hit he ever had in his career: Somewhere My Love (1966). The lyrics of the album's title selection were written to the music of "Lara's Theme" from the film Doctor Zhivago, and the result was a top 10 single in the US. The album also reached the US top 20 and went platinum, and Conniff won a Grammy. The single and album also reached high positions in the international charts (a.o. Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Japan). Also extraordinarily successful was the first of four Christmas albums by the Singers, Christmas with Conniff (1959). Nearly 50 years after its release, in 2004, Conniff was posthumously awarded with a platinum album/CD. Other well-known releases by the Singers included Ray Conniff's Hawaiian album (1967), featuring the hit song "Pearly Shells;" and Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970), which included Coniff's original composition "Someone," and remakes of such hits as "All I Have to do is Dream," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," and "Something."

Musically different highlights in Conniff's career are two albums he produced in cooperation with Billy Butterfield, an old friend from earlier swing days. Conniff Meets Butterfield (1959) featured Butterfield's solo trumpet and a small rhythm group; Just Kiddin' Around (after a Conniff original composition from the 1940s), released 1963, featured additional trombone solos by Ray himself. Both albums are pure light jazz and did not feature any vocals.

Later years[edit]

Conniff recorded in New York from 1955 through 1961 and mainly in Los Angeles from 1962 through 2000. Later in the 1960s he produced an average of two instrumental and one vocal album a year.

In 1979, Conniff was hired to re-arrange and record a new version of "Those Were The Days" and "Remembering You", the opening and closing themes to All In The Family for Carroll O'Connor's new spin-off, Archie Bunker's Place on CBS with a small ensemble, trombone solo, and honky-tonk piano.

Conniff sold about 70 million albums worldwide, and continued recording and performing until his death in 2002.

His death[edit]

He died in Escondido, California, from a fall he suffered in a bathtub, and is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. His grave marker bears a musical score with the first four notes of "Somewhere My Love". Conniff was survived by his wife, Vera; a daughter, Tamara Conniff; son, Jimmy Conniff; and three grandchildren.

^ Bush, John. "Ray Conniff Biography". ARTISTdirect. ARTISTdirect, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-25. 

The Conniff legacy[edit]

In 2004, a memorial two-CD compilation set, The Essential Ray Conniff, was released, featuring many rare and previously unreleased tracks. The Singles Collection, Vol. 1 was released on the Collectables label in 2005, The Singles Collection, Vol. 2 in 2007, and Vol. 3 was released in 2009. These collections also feature rare singles and previously unissued tracks.

His music is also featured prominently in the movie There's Something About Mary.

Ray Conniff Singers membership[edit]

From 1962 through 1971, membership in the Ray Conniff Singers included:


Dick Castle (also known as Dick Kent)Dick Cathcart (father of Betsy Cathcart, who provided the singing voice in the Don Bluth film An American Tail)Jack Halloran (as in Jack Halloran Singers)Jay MeyerVerne RoweBob ShepardBill Stephens

Bass and Baritone

Wayne DunstanJimmy Joyce (as in Children's Choir, featured on "Sing" (The Carpenters song))Christopher BeattyBill KanadyBob TebowDick WesslerTed Wills


Jackie AllenSally Castle (wife of Dick above)Pat CollierBetty Joyce (wife of Jimmy, above)Loulie Jean NormanMyra StephensLaura SavitzLisa Semko


B.J. BakerVangie CarmichaelRica Moore (the Disney narrator)Marge StaffordDoreen TrydenKaren Wessler ^ From group photo identification on Speak to Me of Love (Columbia, 1963).

Original albums[edit]

^ http://comcast.rayconniff.info/original/albums/bop.html

Hit records[edit]


A special version of the song "Happiness Is" was recorded for use in a TV commercial for Kent cigarettes, prior to the ban on TV advertising of tobacco products.

Songs composed by Ray Conniff[edit]

"I Don't Love Nobody but You" (1956)"Unwanted Heart" (1956)"A Girl Without a Fella" (1956)"Please Write While I'm Away" (1956)"Love Her in the Morning" (1956)"No Wedding Today" (1956; under pseudonym, "Engberg")"There's a Place Called Heaven" (1956; under pseudonym, "Engberg")"Three Way Love" (1957)"Walkin' and Whistlin" (1957)"Grown Up Tears" (1957)"Steel Guitar Rock" (1957)LP Dance the Bop! (1957; all titles)"Ann's Theme" (1957; under pseudonym, "Engberg")"(If 'n' You Don't) Somebody Else Will" (1957)"Just a Beginner in Love" (1957)"Window Shopping" (1957)"Soliloquy of a Fool" (1957; co-written)"When We're All Through School" (1957)"Make It Baby" (1957/58)"Let's Walk" (1957/58)"Lonely for a Letter" (1958)"Early Evening (Theme from the Ray Conniff Suite)" (1958)"Let's Be Grown Up Too" (1958)"Pacific Sunset" (1958)"A Love is Born" (1959)"Stay" (1959; co-written)"Will You Love Me" (1959; co-written)"African Safari" (1961)"To my Love" (1962)"Just Kiddin' Around" (1963; composed in the 1930s)"Scarlet" (1963)"Love Has no Rules" (1963)"The Real Meaning of Christmas" (1965)"Midsummer in Sweden" (1966)"The Power of Love" (1969)"Everybody Knows" (1970)"Someone" (1970)"With Every Beat of my Heart" (1971)"A Man Without a Vision" (1972; co-written with Robert Pickett and Fred Sadoff)"Here Today and Gone Tomorrow" (1973)"Frost Festival" (1973)"Ecstasy" (1974)"Ray Conniff In Moscow" (1974)"I Need You Baby" (1975)"Love Theme from an X-Rated Movie", also titled "Duck Walk" and "Love Dance" (1975)"Vera's Theme" (1976)"Dama Latina" (1977)"The 23rd Psalm" (1979)"Exclusivamente Latino" (1980)"Fantastico" (1983; co-written)"Supersonico" (1984)"Campeones" ("The Champions") (1985)"The Lord's Prayer" (1985)"I Can Do All Things (Through Christ Which STrengthenth Me)" (1986)"Tamara's Boogie" (1996)"Turn to the Right" (1996)
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