Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, who started playing when he was only five years
old and grew up playing in The Antonini Family
was his birth name.)
attending John Adams High School in Cleveland, Ohio, he gigged with a
variety of bands until he wound up with Al Donahue’s outfit. Then he seemingly hit the
trumpeter’s lottery when Glenn Miller scooped him up but the two of
them didn’t get along and he band-hopped to The Jimmy Dorsey
Orchestra. Uncle Sam called and
Ray spent much of his tour of duty entertaining the troops with his own
In 1946, he
was discharged and formed a civilian band and inked a deal with Capitol
Records. One of his early
recordings is “Skycoach” which
features the jazz craftsmanship of Ray Brown and Mel Lewis. The Ray Anthony Orchestra enjoyed
the pinnacle of its popularity in the ‘50s, with party favourites like “The Bunny Hop”, which Ray
co-wrote with Leonard Auletti, and “The
Hokey Pokey”. In 1952, he
scored a #2 hit with a cover of the Glenn Miller standard, “At
Last”. He followed this
up with a cover of the theme to the popular television series, Dragnet.
In 1953, he
became the musical director of another TV show, Top Tunes, and briefly hosted The Ray Anthony Show from 1956 to 1957. In the interim, he married blonde
bombshell Mamie van Doren and played himself in
the 1955 Fred Astaire vehicle, Daddy
Long Legs. Ironically, he portayed his former boss, Jimmy Dorsey, in The Five Pennies. He also appeared in a pair of his
wife’s movies, Girls Town
and High School Confidential.
All of this
show business activity did not preclude him from recording, however, and
his LP, Anthony Plays Allen, is
considered a stand-out. The
album features guest appearances by artists such as Conte Candoli, Conrad Gozzo, Skeets Herfurt, Plas Johnson, and Alvin Stoller. In 1959, he made a guest appearance
of his own on NBC-TV’s Five
Mamie and Ray
called it quits in 1961, and that was pretty much the end of Ray’s
movie career. The waning in
popularity of big bands did not help his musical career, but he forged on
with his own sextet and a pair of female singers who billed themselves as
The Bookends. Again, Ray saw his
group become popular, enough so that he was able to add four more musicians
and four more female singers.
This incarnation of his band enjoyed success on the club circuit,
including the burgeoning Las Vegas scene.
Ray finished on the Billboard charts.
His cover of “Peter Gunn” reached #8 on the pop chart
and is considered one of the better recordings of the famous TV theme, and
possibly the most financially successful. Financial success was nothing new to
Ray, who parlayed his musical accomplishments into a number of lucrative
ventures, including a Hollywood nightclub and a publishing business.
He was also
successful as a songwriter, penning “Big Band Boogie”,
“Mr. Anthony’s Boogie”, “Thunderbird” and
Ray is also mentioned in the lyrics of another song, “Opus
One”, which was an instrumental hit for Tommy Dorsey.
In the 1980s,
Ray formed another big band and started up Big Bands 80s, in an effort to
keep the tradition of big-band music going, on the radio, in schools, and
other arenas. In 1991, Capitol
records re-issued some of his recordings on CD as part of their Capitol Collectors Series. Ray also has his own star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is
good friends with Playboy magnate
Hugh Hefner, and makes frequent appearances on the TV program, The Girls Next Door.
As recently as
2006, Ray was still very much active in the music biz. He also owns and operates Aerospace,
a record label dedicated to re-issuing big-band classics by Billy May,
Glenn Miller, and of course, Ray Anthony.
A Smoky Montgomery recordings
The Bunny Hop (Ray Anthony/Leonard Auletti)