Ray Noble Biography

Stanley Raymond Noble, 17 December 1903, Brighton, Sussex, England, d. 2 April 1978, London, England. The son of a part-time songwriter and musician, Noble attended choir school, Dulwich College and Cambridge University before studying at the Royal College of Music. In 1926 he won a Melody Maker arranging contest and worked for music publisher Lawrence Wright and Jack Payne’s BBC Dance Orchestra before becoming a staff arranger at HMV Records, eventually succeeding Carroll Gibbons as Head of Light Music. He conducted the company’s New Mayfair Orchestra and New Mayfair Novelty Orchestra before forming his own sweet-swing studio band which included top musicians Freddy Gardner, Alfie Noakes, Bill Harty, Tiny Winters, Max Goldberg, Nat Gonella, Lew Davis and the most popular vocalist of the 30s, Al Bowlly. Bowlly’s vocals on songs such as ‘Time On My Hands’, ‘Close Your Eyes’, ‘How Could We Be Wrong’ and ‘Lazy Day’ are considered outstanding examples of the orchestra’s substantial output, alongside the singer’s interpretations of Noble’s own compositions. Noble wrote his first hit song, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’, in 1931, and during the early 30s, followed it with ‘By The Fireside’, ‘I Found You’, and ‘What More Can I Ask’. One of his biggest successes, ‘Love Is The Sweetest Thing’ attracted much attention because of the similarity of its first five notes to the first five of the British national anthem, ‘God Save The King’.

Ray Noble’s ensemble was the first British band to become popular on records in the USA, and, having had hits there since 1931, including ‘Lady Of Spain’, ‘Love Is The Sweetest Thing’ and ‘The Old Spinning Wheel’, Noble went to the USA in 1934, taking with him drummer/manager Bill Harty and Al Bowlly. Glenn Miller assisted him in organizing an American orchestra which included, at various times, future leaders Claude Thornhill, Charlie Spivak, Pee Wee Irwin, Will Bradley, and soloists Bud Freeman and George Van Eps. They had hits with ‘Isle Of Capri’, ‘Paris In The Spring’, ‘Let’s Swing It’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and ‘Easy To Love’ (with Bowlly on vocals), along with Noble’s own songs, ‘The Very Thought Of You’, ‘Love Locked Out’ (lyric by Max Kester), and ‘The Touch Of Your Lips’. In 1936, after the orchestra’s very successful engagement at New York’s Rainbow Room, Bowlly returned to England, and in the following year the band broke up, re-forming later in the 30s.

Noble subsequently went to Hollywood. He had been there in 1935 to appear in The Big Broadcast Of 1936 in which Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman sang his song, ‘Why The Stars Come Out Tonight’. This time he appeared as a ‘silly ass’ Englishman in the Fred Astaire movie A Damsel In Distress, and later duetted with Astaire on the record version of his eccentric dance, ‘The Yam’, and accompanied him on songs such as ‘Change Partners’, ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’ and ‘A Foggy Day’. He also backed singer Buddy Clarke on his US number 1, ‘Linda’, and ‘I’ll Dance At Your Wedding’. Noble continued to have successful records in the US until the end of the 40s with songs such as ‘I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm’, ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ and ‘By The Light Of The Silvery Moon’. Recordings of his compositions ‘Cherokee’ (by Charlie Barnet) and ‘I Hadn’t Anyone Till You’ were highlights of the Swing Era. After returning briefly to England in 1938 to play in variety, Noble worked consistently in America, playing musical and comedy roles on Burns And Allen’s radio show, and later through to the 50s, with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen on radio and television, sometimes playing stooge to Bergen’s famous partner, Charlie McCarthy. When the latter series ended in the mid-50s Noble retired to Santa Barbara, California, subsequently spending some years in Jersey in the Channel Islands.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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