Vocalist and bandleader Ray Eberle was the brother of popular Jimmy Dorsey singer Bob Eberly. Ray had no professional experience when he joined Glenn Miller in 1937. Miller, looking for a male vocalist for his new orchestra, asked Bob if he had any brothers at home who could sing. Bob said “yes,” and Miller hired Ray without question. Miller’s 1937 band failed, but when the bandleader formed a new group in 1938, he brought Eberle back.
Though music critics were often unimpressed with Ray’s voice, he became an integral part of the Miller line-up, singing on many of the group’s biggest hits. Even Miller’s own musicians weren’t happy with Eberle’s style and often voiced their complaints, but Miller stuck with him. Audiences loved him. He placed second in Billboard magazine’s 1941 college poll for best male band vocalist and won first place in 1942. He placed third in the 1943 poll.
Eberle secretly married Janet Young in January 1940, telling only Miller. The rest of the band didn’t learn about the marriage until summer. The couple actually married twice—the second time just to “be sure.” The couple had a daughter, Raye, in early 1941.
A lack of professional discipline led to Eberle’s departure from Miller’s orchestra in June 1942, though the actual event that caused his dismissal was beyond his control. Stuck in traffic during a Chicago engagement, he was late for rehearsal. Miller fired him on the spot, no questions asked. Eberle responded by blasting Miller in a trade paper. An angry Miller retorted with his own version of Eberle’s firing.
Despite the public rift with his former boss, Eberle soon landed a job with Gene Krupa, where he replaced Johnny Desmond, who had just received his draft notice. In January 1943, Jan Garber attempted to lure Eberle away from Krupa, but the singer and the bandleader had a fight during their first rehearsal, and the deal fell through. Neither would talk about the details. When asked by Down Beat magazine, Garber simply went “into a pantomime act of a guy slightly the worse for wear for one or two too many.” Eberle returned to Krupa, whom he left the next month to go solo when he landed a seven-year contract with Universal Studios. He made five films over the next two years, playing a band vocalist or bandleader in all of them.
On his own as a singer, Eberle continued to perform and tour the country. In April 1943, he worked with the orchestra of Glenn Miller’s brother, Herb. In late 1944 or early 1945, he recorded with the Skylarks and the Buddy Rocco Trio for the Dubonnet label, which was owned by the Dubonnet music publishing firm and used exclusively to plug their songs.
In mid-1945, Eberle attempted to become partners in a band formed by sax player Dave Matthews. Matthews, unable to get quality booking under his own name, brought Eberle in on the deal. In May, however, Eberle received his draft notice, ending the venture. Ironically, Eberle had just been rejected by his draft board earlier that year. In the army, Eberle served at Fort MacArthur in California. He was released in mid-1946 and resumed his solo career.
Eberle formed his own orchestra in late 1946. Female vocalists included Rosemary Calvin in late 1947 and Joan Marshall, who replaced Calvin in early 1948. Trumpet player and novelty singer Johnny Bond also appeared with the band in late 1947 and early 1948. The orchestra recorded on the Signature label in 1948 but found little success, and Eberle disbanded in early 1949, after which he continued with his solo career.
In 1951, Eberle recorded with former Miller bandmate Tex Beneke’s orchestra and in 1970 joined them for a national tour. He often reunited with his former Miller bandmates for reunion shows. Eberle formed a new orchestra in the mid-1950s and continued working with bands on and off until his death from a heart attack in 1979 at age 60.
No sources give dates on Eberle’s Dubonnet recordings, and extremely little information is available about the Dubonnet music publishing firm itself. They were active in the mid-1940s, and given Eberle’s timeline the recordings would have been made between November 1944, when the American Federation of Musician’s recording ban ended, and the time he entered the service in May 1945. ↩︎
Despite the setback, Matthews continued with the band, which fell apart after only a few performances. ↩︎