Band leader Ray Anthony has been an immense presence on the swing scene for over 50 years. He cut his teeth as a trumpeter, performing first with Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey during the 1940s before embarking on a successful solo career. During the 1950s and 1960s he appeared in numerous movies and on television shows, and became well known for recording the theme to Dragnet. He also wrote novelty tunes such as "The Bunny Hop," and modern classics, including "Dancing in the Dark."
Ray Anthony was born Raymond Antonioni on January 20, 1922, in Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, one of six brothers. His family later moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and Anthony, at the age of five, learned to play trumpet from his father. Soon Anthony began performing in the family orchestra. As a teen he formed his own band in Cleveland, and soon came to the attention of jazz great Glenn Miller. At only 18, Anthony was asked to join Miller's band.
Anthony performed with Miller's band in 1940–41, but with the advent of World War II he joined the U.S. Navy. He returned to Cleveland awaiting assignment, and temporarily joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band. "In the case of Jimmy," Anthony later recalled to Christopher Popa at Big Band Library, "he was almost like one of the guys in the band." In the Navy, he served as the head of a show band in the Pacific arena that would later be recognized as one of the top service bands. "That's where I did most of my growing with the band," Anthony told Popa, "and eventually took it into civilian life, when the War was over."
After his discharge in 1946, he formed the Ray Anthony Orchestra, an outfit that would impact the American music scene for the next 50 years. The band traveled widely and played before large audiences, earning Anthony a contract with Capitol Records in 1949 that would last for 19 years. The orchestra also helped feed a national dance craze with the release of the "Bunny Hop" and the "Hokey Pokey."
The success of the band led to multiple opportunities in Hollywood. In 1953–54, Anthony served as the director of the orchestra for the series TV's Top Tunes, and in 1953 he recorded one of his best known pieces, the theme to Dragnet. For 13 weeks in the summer of 1953, The Ray Anthony Show served as a summer replacement to the Perry Como Show, and the program returned for another eight weeks the following summer. The Ray Anthony Orchestra appeared in the Fred Astaire movie Daddy Long Legs in 1955 and in The Girl Can't Help It the following year. In 1955 Anthony married Mamie Van Doren, an actress and noted sex symbol of the era.
Anthony's television and film work continued to evolve through the remainder of the 1950s and into the 1960s. He was known for his handsome Cary Grant-like looks, and found it easy to move into acting roles. He played an undercover agent in High School Confidential in 1958 and a hotel clerk in Night of the Quarter Moon a year later. The Ray Anthony Orchestra also continued to work in films, appearing in This Could Be the Night in 1957. Interestingly, Anthony landed the role of fellow bandleader Jimmy Dorsey in The Five Pennies in 1959. A new version of The Ray Anthony Show appeared in 1956–57 and ran for 30 weeks. Syndicated versions of The Ray Anthony Show reappeared in 1963 and 1969–70.
Jazz critics often dismissed much of Anthony's recorded work, categorizing it as a popular, watered-down version of jazz. During the 1950s, however, he recorded two albums that rose to a much higher mark in their estimation: Anthony Plays Allen and Swing's The Thing. Anthony's recorded work, despite his lukewarm acceptance by critics, experienced an enthusiastic response from the listening public, sending a number of his singles and LPs onto the pop charts in the 1950s and early 1960s. Golden Horn, an album from 1955, rose to number 10 on the pop charts, while 1962's Worried Mind reached number 14. The single "Melody of Love" reached number 19 in 1955, while "Peter Gunn," the theme to a television series, rose to number 8.
Aside from his occasional movie and television appearances, Anthony's public popularity declined during he 1960s. In 1961 he and Van Doren divorced, and his film career came to an end. Although Anthony's career in movies was fairly short, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Anthony's music also appeared less frequently on the popular charts after the early 1960s. The album Worried Mind reached the charts in 1962, and two singles, "Let Me Entertain You" and "Worried Mind," broke the top 100.
A number of Anthony compilations have been issued. In 1991 Capitol reissued the Capitol Collectors Series, a collection that included some of Anthony's best-known songs, including "The Bunny Hop," "The Theme to Peter Gunn," and "Dragnet." In 2005 Lone Hill Jazz released Plays the Arrangements of George Williams, a collection derived from 1950–55. "Most importantly," wrote All Music Guide, "this music is fun. Nothing too serious or complicated here—just good clean fun." Anthony also took advantage of a resurgent interest in Swing Jazz during the 1980s and 1990s. He opened the Big Band Record Library and started a mail order service. "People hear this music and they want to buy it, but there's no place to buy it," he told Popa. "The record stores have stopped selling it. So we've started a sort of a clearinghouse." Anthony also released Boogies Blues and Ballads and Dream Dancing in Hawaii on Aerospace.
Anthony continued to pursue his vocation during the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond. He performed at the Presidential Inaugural Ball in 1985, and has loaned his talent to numerous charity events. He has continued to front his orchestra, and the band remains active at private parties in Beverly Hills. "I can't remember a time when music wasn't part of my life," Anthony was quoted on his website. "Music puts wings on the human soul. Nothing can touch people the way music can. And every day is a new opportunity to create, change, stretch and reach for new heights doing something that I absolutely love—entertaining people through great music."
I Remember Glenn Miller, Capitol, 1955.
Golden Horn, Capitol, 1955.
Dream Dancing, Capitol, 1956.
Dancing Over the Waves, Capitol, 1958.
Dream Dancing Medley, Capitol, 1961.
Capital Collectors Series, Capitol, 1991.
Plays the Arrangements of George Williams, Lone Hill Jazz, 2001.
For the Record …
Born Raymond Antonioni on January 20, 1922, in Bentleyville, Pennsylvania.
Joined Glenn Miller band as trumpeter, 1940–41, and Jimmy Dorsey Band, 1941; formed the Ray Anthony Orchestra, 1946; signed with Capital Records, 1949; served as director of the orchestra for the series TV's Top Tunes, and recorded the theme to Dragnet, 1953; appeared with Ray Anthony Orchestra in Daddy Long Legs, 1955, and The Girl Can't Help It, 1956; played Jimmy Dorsey in The Five Pennies, 1959; appeared in various productions of The Ray Anthony Show, 1950s–60s; performed at the Presidential Inaugural Ball, 1985; performs for charities and private parties, 1980s–.
Addresses: Record Company—Aerospace Records, 9288 Kinglet Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90069, phone: (800)-845-2263, website: http://bigbandcdstore.com/aerospacerecordssite.html.
"Ray Anthony," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (October 9, 2006).
"Ray Anthony: A Man and His Music," Big Band CD Store, http://www.bigbandcdstore.com/rayanthonysite.html (October 9, 2006).
"Ray Anthony: 'Mr. Anthony's Band,'" Big Band Library, http://www.bigbandlibrary.com/ (October 9, 2006).
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