Noble, Ray(mond Stanley)

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Noble, Ray(mond Stanley)

Noble, Ray(mond Stanley), English bandleader, songwriter, and arranger; b. Sussex, England, Dec. 17, 1903; d. London, April 3, 1978. Thirty years before The Beatles arrived in America, Ray Noble mounted his own British Invasion, becoming one of the few English musicians of his time to achieve substantial success in the U.S. In addition to scoring hits like “Isle of Capri” with his accomplished dance band, he also wrote many popular songs, notably “Goodnight, Sweetheart,” “The Very Thought of You,” and “Love Is the Sweetest Thing.”

Noble’s father was a surgeon; his uncle Thomas Noble was a composer and organist. Initially intending to follow his father into medicine, he studied at Dulwich Coll. and Cambridge Univ., later transferring to the Royal Academy of Music. His first published song was “Nobody’s Fault but Your Own” (lyrics by Alan Murray) in 1928. In 1929 he won an arranging competition sponsored by Melody Maker, which led to a job as arranger with Jack Payne’s BBC Dance Orch. In July he moved to a job as staff arranger with HMV Records, eventually replacing Carroll Gibbons as head of Light Music. In this position he directed the New Mayfair Orch., a studio-only band made up of top musicians from various English orchestras.

”Goodnight, Sweetheart” (music and lyrics by Noble, Jimmy Campbell, and Reg Connelly) was featured briefly in the 1930 edition of the Broadway revue Earl Carroll’s Vanities (N.Y., July 1, 1930) without attracting notice. But after it was used again in the next edition of the Vanities (N.Y., Aug. 27, 1931) and introduced on radio by Rudy Vallee (who earned a songwriting credit for adapting it for U.S. consumption), it became a bestseller for Wayne King and His Orch. in October 1931 and again for Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians in December, making it the biggest hit of the year. Meanwhile, Noble’s recordings, initially credited to the London Mayfair Orch., had begun to earn U.S. distribution, with his first stateside hit, “Lady of Spain,” coming in September 1931.

”By the Fireside” (music and lyrics by Noble, Jimmy Campbell, and Reg Connelly) became a U.S. hit for George Olsen and His Orch. in April 1932. Also in 1932, Noble earned his first screen credit, when his music was used in the British film Say It with Music, notably “Love Is the Sweetest Thing” (music and lyrics by Noble), which also became his first U.S. best- seller as a recording artist in August 1933. “The Old Spinning Wheel” (music and lyrics by Billy Hill) became his next bestseller in January 1934, but the following month British bandleader (Bert) Ambrose and His Orch. had a more successful version of Noble’s composition “Love Locked Out” (lyrics by Max Kester) than Noble himself.

Noble had songs in four films released in England in 1934, notably Brewster’s Millions and Princess Charming, both of which earned American distribution the following year. He had another U.S. best-seller in July 1934 with “The Very Thought of You” (music and lyrics by Noble). In August he left his position with HMV, and in September he crossed the Atlantic to launch a career in America, taking with him only his vocalist, Al Bowlly, and his manager and drummer, Bill Harty. “It’s All Forgotten Now,” another of his compositions, became a hit for him in October. “Isle of Capri” (music by Will Grosz, lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy) was a best-seller in January 1935 and one of the biggest hits of the year.

Noble initially went to Hollywood, where he wrote songs for Paramount Pictures. All of his compositions were cut from the final print of Love in Bloom when it was released in April 1935, but the film is notable for introducing him to the comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen, with whom he would work later on the radio. All of them appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1936, which was released in September 1935.

Noble hired former Dorsey Brothers Orch. arranger Glenn Miller to organize a band for him, and he opened with it at the Rainbow Room in N.Y. on June 1, 1935, staying at the club through the following year. In August he reached the top of the hit parade with “Paris in the Spring” (music by Harry Revel, lyrics by Mack Gordon). In addition to his own recordings, he also got into the hit parade via Bing Crosby’s recording of his song “The Touch of Your Lips” in the spring of 1936.

Noble returned to Hollywood in 1937 to work on the Fred Astaire film A Damsel in Distress, appearing in a comic role and backing Astaire on the George and Ira Gershwin score, both on screen and in the recording studio; the Astaire/Noble recording of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” became a hit upon the movie’s release in November. Noble returned to the hit parade in the summer of 1938 with his composition “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” and again backed Astaire on studio recordings of the songs from the film Carefree, among them “Change Partners” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin), which topped the hit parade in the fall. Also in 1938, Noble wrote the instrumental “Cherokee,” which Charlie Barnet recorded and used as his theme song; it became a standard of the Swing Era.

Noble wrote several songs for the MGM film Honolulu, released in February 1939. In early 1940 he became the musical director of the Burns and Allen radio show, later holding the same position on The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show. His recording of the 1909 song “By the Light of the Silv’ry Moon” (music by Gus Edwards, lyrics by Edward Madden) became a hit twice, once in May 1942 and again when it was reissued during the recording ban in 1944; eventually it sold over a million copies.

Noble made a series of film appearances during the 1940s, in Here We Go Again (1942), Lake Placid Serenade (1944), and Out of This World (1945). In May 1947 he returned to the top of the charts with “Linda” (music and lyrics by Jack Lawrence). September saw the release of the animated Disney film Fun and Fancy Free, for which Noble wrote songs.

After The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show went off the air in the 1950s, Noble retired, living in Santa Barbara for a time, and also on the Isle of Jersey off the English coast. He died of cancer at the age of 74 in 1978, survived by his wife.

—William Ruhlmann