Ray Conniff Biography

6 November 1916, Attelboro, Massachusetts, USA, d. 12 October 2002, Escondido, California, USA. Taught to play the trombone by his father, Conniff studied arranging with the aid of a mail-order course while still at college. In 1934, after graduation, he worked with small bands in Boston before joining Bunny Berigan as trombonist/arranger in 1937. After a spell with Bob Crosby’s Bobcats, Conniff spent four years with Artie Shaw and featured on several successful records including ‘Concerto For Clarinet’, ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and ‘St James Infirmary’. During this period he was also studying at the New York Juilliard School of Music in New York.

After army service in World War II Conniff spent some time as an arranger with Harry James, then freelanced while searching for a successful formula for producing hit records. Conniff joined Columbia Records as a house arranger in 1951 and worked with several of their artists, including Johnnie Ray, Rosemary Clooney, Guy Mitchell and Marty Robbins. In 1954, he provided the arrangement for Don Cherry’s million-seller, ‘Band Of Gold’, and in 1956 was given the chance, by Columbia Records producer Mitch Miller, to make an album featuring his ‘new sound’. The successful result, ’S Wonderful!, was a set of familiar songs with an orchestra, and a cleverly blended mixed chorus of wordless voices, sometimes used as extra instruments within the songs’ arrangements. ’S Wonderful! was followed, naturally, by ’S Marvellous and ’S Awful Nice, all in the same vein. It’s The Talk Of The Town, in 1960, featured a larger chorus, and for the first time they sang words.

From 1957-68 Conniff had 28 albums in the US Top 40, including Say It With Music (A Touch Of Latin), Memories Are Made Of This, and in 1966, the million-seller, Somewhere My Love. The album’s title track, ‘Lara’s Theme’ from the movie Doctor Zhivago (1965), also made the US Top 10 singles chart. In 1969, he topped the UK album charts with His Orchestra, His Chorus, His Singers, His Sound, and in 1974 became the first American popular musician to record in Russia, where he made Ray Conniff In Moscow, using a local chorus. The prolific Conniff’s later albums, including Exclusivamente Latino, Amor Amor, Fantastico, Interpreta 16 Exitos De Manuel Alejandro, Latinisimo and Do Ray Para O Rei, catered to his large Latin audience. He continued performing up until his death in October 2002.

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

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