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Composer Ray Conniff Remembered for Easy Blend of Orchestral, Choral Music - 2002-10-16

Bandleader, musician and composer Ray Conniff died October 12 in California of injuries from a fall. He was 85 years old. In a career that spanned six decades, he got his start during the big band era of the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s and 1960s, Conniff became known for his easy blend of orchestral and choral music.

In 1966, Ray Conniff won a Grammy Award for his Top 10 single, Somewhere My Love, also known as Lara's Theme from the hit film, Doctor Zhivago. Conniff was one of the first to introduce wordless, vocal choruses with light orchestrations. He often paired female voices with trumpets or clarinets, and male voices with trombones and saxophones.

Born in Massachusetts, Ray Conniff was a trombone player, composer and arranger who moved to New York City during the swing era of the 1930s.

After working with legends such as Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw and Harry James, he took a break in the 1940s to study conducting and music theory. He wrote and arranged hits with producer Mitch Miller before forming his own orchestra in the 1950s. Conniff always used a large chorus, which became part of his signature sound.

In his career, Ray Conniff recorded 100 albums, sold more than 70 million records worldwide, and produced 25 albums that reached the Top 40 of the albums charts. His holiday collections were particular favorites with his American audience, and he had a Top 20 hit in 1965 with The Real Meaning of Christmas.

By the 1970s, Ray Conniff's popularity waned as rock dominated the charts, but he continued to arrange for artists such as The Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel, and Burt Bacharach. Many of Conniff's tunes were resurrected in the last decade as part of the "lounge music" trend, which incorporates the smooth, sensuous, easy-listening sounds of decades past with modern technology. Into the 1990s and 2000, Ray Conniff continued to record and perform for his Latin American fans. In 2001, he gave a series of concerts in Brazil, and in March of this year, performed at the wedding of Broadway star Liza Minnelli. He continued playing live and recording until the spring of 2002, when he suffered a stroke. He was hospitalized after falling at his home, but never recovered.

Composer, arranger and artist Ray Conniff dead in California at age 85. Here's the title track of one his popular Brazilian-themed albums, Fantastico.