Ray Conniff, one of the few commercially successful musical geniuses of our time, was born on November 6, 1916, in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Ray was exposed to music at an early age, his father was the leader/trombonist of the local Jewelry City Band and his mother played the piano.
As a junior in Attleboro High School, Ray and some of his buddies decided to start a dance orchestra. Taking some musical tips from his father, Ray started practicing trombone and wound up playing first trombone for the band. It was for this group that Ray did his first arrangement, his fellow musicians loved his interpretation of "Sweet Georgia Brown."
Out of high school, Ray got his first professional job with Dan Murphy's "Musical Skippers" in Boston. He played trombone, arranged music and drove a panel truck for the band. When a friend of his told him that Boston was too small for a talented musician to make it, Ray headed for the Big Apple.
Ray arrived in New York at the birth of "swing." Before finding a steady gig, he sat in with bands in local clubs and practiced his instrument devoutly. Opportunity found him and he landed his first paying job as trombonist/arranger for Bunny Berigan's band. After a 15 month stint with Berigan, Bob Crosby hired him away in 1939. Ray played with Crosby’s band for a year before he joined Artie Shaw's. Ray's reputation as an arranger was growing and his trombone solos were well known.
After Shaw came Glen Gray and then with the onslaught of World War ll, Ray spent two years with the United States Army arranging for the Armed Forces Radio Services in Hollywood. He was discharged in 1946 and began arranging for Harry James. When "be-bop" hit the musical scene in the late 40's, Ray, whose musical tastes did not connect with "bop", stopped arranging for a while.
This break brought on some hard times for Ray, both emotionally and financially. During this period, he taught himself how to conduct, involved himself in an exhaustive study of hit recordings and developed what he believed to be a "magic formula" of arranging.
In the early 50's, the big break in Ray's career happened when he met Mitch Miller of Columbia Records, who hired him as an arranger. In 1955, Ray got his first chance to try out his sure-fire theory of arranging. The lucky record was Don Cherry's "Band Of Gold." It became a runaway hit. This spurned a series of Conniff-arranged Columbia recording sessions, which resulted in many hit records. Among them were Johnnie Ray's "Just Walking In The Rain," Frankie Laine's "Moonlight Gambler," Guy Mitchell's "Singing The Blues" and Marty Robbins' "A White Sport Coat." Ray was also responsible for the brilliant arrangements of Johnny Mathis' "Chances Are," "Wonderful, Wonderful," and "It's Not For Me To Say."
Ray's success arranging and conducting for other recording artists prompted Columbia to let him record an album under his own name, he was the first artist to use voices and vocal arranging as part of the instrumentation, for instance, female voices double with trumpets, high saxes or clarinets; male voices with trombones or saxes in low register. Ray's debut album "'S Wonderful", was in the Top 20 for nine months. Cash Box voted Ray "the most promising up-and-coming band leader of 1957." He won the same award again in 1958. In 1959, Disk Jockeys voted The Ray Conniff Orchestra and Singers "the most programmed studio orchestra."
By the early 60's Ray's record sales were booming. The Ray Conniff Orchestra and Singers were in great demand. Ray, who prides himself on being able to produce live in concert the same sound created on recordings, brought to the public the first live stereo concert ever to take place in the world. The audiences experienced the sensation of three channel stereo being transmitted throughout the concert hall with the aid of an elaborate stereo sound system. Critics hailed the concert as the "musical event of the 60's." Ray presented his "Concert In Stereo" on US American TV, with ensuing tours through the USA, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. He also played to great acclaim at the Sahara-Tahoe Hotel in Lake Tahoe and the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. During this time, Ray had the chorus step out of the orchestra and they gained fame in their own right, singing the lyrics and they became known as the "Ray Conniff Singers."
During the 70's Ray performed his new show "Happiness Is Music" throughout South America, Japan and England (including the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London). He also performed at the White House during the Vietnam War. In 1974, Ray was the first pop artist from the West asked to go to Russia to record an album in Moscow.
Ray, who is now 85 years old, is still recording approximately one new album a year. He tours annually through Brazil with his complete orchestra and chorus and full houses of people of all ages sing and dance along as he runs up and down the stage like a 20 year old kid, conducting, singing, talking to the crowd, playing his trombone - doing what he does best.
Ray's repertoire includes big band standards, adaptations of classical themes, songs from the movies and the Broadway stage and ranges from top chart hits to Country, and Latin music.
Ray has survived in the music business for over 65 years, he has recorded over 100 albums to date and has sold over 70 million albums, cassettes and CD's. He is the proud recipient of a Grammy Award for his recording of "Somewhere My Love”, two Grammy nominations, over 10 gold albums, 2 platinum albums (“Somewhere My Love” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”), CBS Records-Best Selling Artist for 1962 Award and countless international awards. He was also one of the few artists to receive the prestigious CBS Records International Crystal Globe Award for outstanding sales outside of the United States. His catalog sales have surpassed those of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
In March of 1997, after 40 years with Columbia Records / CBS Records / Sony Music, Ray signed new contracts with PolyGram / Universal Records and Abril Music of Brazil. He recorded three albums for PolyGram: "Ray Conniff Live In Rio," "I Love Movies," and a tribute to the late Frank Sinatra, entitled "My Way.”
His recordings for Abril Music include “’S Country,” featuring Brazilian Country Music and his fourth Christmas album, “’S Christmas.” In 2000, Ray recorded yet another album for Abril Music featuring the music of Roberto Carlos, entitled “Do Ray Para o Rei.”
In September 2001, Ray gave a series of concerts in Brazil again, before he celebrated his 85th birthday on November 6. In March 2002, Ray followed an invitation of Liza Minnelli and David Gest and performed his greatest hit, "Somewhere My Love" at their wedding in New York.
After having suffered a stroke he made very good progress during a stay at the Palm Springs Stroke Center. He had already made plans for another tour and new recordings. However, on 12th October 2002 Ray Conniff passed away in San Diego.
(Based on a bio by Vera Conniff, some notes added and updated by Manfred Thoenicke, president of the Ray Conniff International Fan Club in October 2002)