Ray Noble (17 December 1903 – 3 April 1978) was an English bandleader, composer, arranger, radio comedian, and actor. Noble wrote both lyrics and music for many popular songs during the British dance band era known as the "Golden Age of British music", notably for his longtime friend and associate Al Bowlly, including Love Is The Sweetest Thing, Cherokee, The Touch of Your Lips, I Hadn't Anyone Till You and his signature tune, The Very Thought of You. Noble also played a radio comedian opposite American ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's stage act of Mortimer Snerd and Charlie McCarthy, and American comedy duo Burns and Allen, later transferring these roles from radio to TV and popular films.
Early life and career
Raymond Stanley Noble was born at 1 Montpelier Terrace in the Montpelier area of Brighton, England. A blue plaque on the house commemorates him. Noble studied at theRoyal Academy of Music and in 1927 won a competition for the best British dance band orchestrator that was advertised in the Melody Maker music magazine. In 1929, he became leader of the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra, an HMV Records studio band that featured members of many of the top hotel orchestras of the day.
The most popular vocalist with Noble's studio band was Al Bowlly, who joined in 1930. During this time Noble co-wrote Turkish Delight, By the Fireside and Goodnight, Sweetheart. The latter song was a number one hit for Guy Lombardo in the United States charts.
Career in the United States
Noble moved to New York City in 1934. The Bowlly/Noble recordings with the British New Mayfair Dance Orchestra on HMV had achieved popularity in the United States and Noble had several number one hits on the US pop singles charts:
- Love is the Sweetest Thing, 1933, no.1 for 5 weeks;
- Old Spinning Wheel, 1934, no.1 for 3 weeks;
- The Very Thought of You, 1934, no.1 for 5 weeks;
- Isle of Capri, 1935, no.1 for 7 weeks;
and with the American band:
- Paris in the Spring, 1935, no.1 for 1 week.
As well as Al Bowlly, Noble also took his drummer Bill Harty to USA and asked Glenn Miller to recruit American musicians to complete the band. Glenn Miller played the trombone in the Ray Noble orchestra which performed Glenn Miller's composition Dese Dem Dose as part of the medley Dese Dem Dose/An Hour Ago This Minute/Solitude during a performance at the Rainbow Room in 1935. The American Ray Noble band had a successful run at the Rainbow Room in New York City with Bowlly as principal vocalist. The act included ventriloquist Edgar Bergen.
Although Noble was no singer, he did appear twice as an upper crust Englishmen on two of his more popular New York records, 1935's Top Hat and 1937's Slumming on Park Avenue. Ray Noble was also an arranger who scored many record hits in the 1930s: Mad About the Boy (1932), Paris in the Spring (1935) and Easy to Love (1936),
Ray Noble and his orchestra appeared in the 1937 film A Damsel in Distress with Burns and Allen. Noble played a somewhat "dense" character who was in love with Gracie Allen. His catchphrase was "Gracie, this is the first time we've ever been alone together." Al Bowlly returned to England in 1938 but Noble continued to lead bands in America, moving into an acting career portraying a stereotypical upper-class English idiot.
Ray Noble played the piano but seldom did so with his orchestra. In a movie short from the 1940s featuring Ray Noble and Buddy Clark (one of his most popular band singers), Ray Noble is asked by the announcer to play one of his most popular hits. He sits down at the piano and plays Goodnight, Sweetheart.
Ray Noble provided music for many radio shows like The Chase and Sanborn Hour, The Charlie McCarthy Show and Burns and Allen and also guest appeared in some of their films. He worked with Bergen for nearly fifteen years, playing the foil to McCarthy and the slow-witted Mortimer Snerd, and his orchestra appeared with Edgar Bergen in the 1942 film Here We Go Again. He also did the orchestration for the 1942 Lou Gehrig biopic The Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper. Noble's last major successes as a bandleader came with Buddy Clark in the late 1940s.
The ventriloquist TV show ended in the mid-1950s, and Noble retired to Santa Barbara, California. In the late 1960s Noble relocated to Jersey in the Channel Islands. In March 1978 he flew to London for treatment of cancer, and later died of the disease at a London hospital.