Ray McKinley

Photo of Ray McKinley
  • Born

    June 18, 1910
    Fort Worth, Texas
  • Died

    May 7, 1995 (age 84)
    Largo, Florida

Drummer Ray McKinley got his start per­form­ing in lo­cal bands around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area be­fore mov­ing to New York in the early 1930s. There he worked with Red Nichols and Milt Shaw, join­ing Smith Ballew in 1932, where he formed a strong friend­ship with band­mate Glenn Miller. In 1934, both McKinley and Miller joined the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, which Miller helped form. Miller soon left but McKinley re­mained, and when Tommy split off to form his own group McKinley stayed with Jimmy.

In 1939, William Morris tal­ent agent Willard Alexander re­cruited McKinley to co-lead a swing band with trom­bon­ist Will Bradley, a for­mer band­mate dur­ing his days with Milt Shaw. Backed by a pow­er­ful pub­lic­ity cam­paign, the duo’s or­ches­tra de­buted in 1939 un­der Bradley’s name and soon had its first big hit with Celery Stalks at Midnight.” The band ini­tially fea­tured pi­anist Freddie Slack and a young Peanuts Hucko on tenor sax. Trumpeters Lee Castle and Pete Candoli later played with the group. Arrangements were pro­vided by Hugo Winterhalter, Leonard Whitney, and Al Datz. McKinley sang on the swing num­bers. Other vo­cal­ists in­cluded Carlotta Dale, Phyllis Miles, Louise Tobin, Larry Southern, and Jimmy Valentine. The group’s first record­ings were on the Vocalion and Okeh la­bels. Subsequent re­leases were on Columbia.

In 1940, Bradley and McKinley be­gan to fea­ture a boo­gie woo­gie sound in their arrange­ments. Initial suc­cess with the song Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar” sparked a slew of sim­i­lar record­ings, such as Bounce Me Brother, with a Solid Four” and Scrub Me Mama, with a Boogie Beat.” The new style proved pop­u­lar with the pub­lic, and the band quickly de­vel­oped a niche fol­low­ing. By early 1942, how­ever, Bradley had tired of boo­gie-woo­gie and wanted to fo­cus more on bal­lads. McKinley dis­agreed and left to form his own band.

McKinley’s new or­ches­tra fea­tured Lou Stein on pi­ano and Dick Cathcart on trum­pet. Imogene Lynn was the fe­male vo­cal­ist. The band recorded on the Hit and Capitol la­bels. Unfortunately, McKinley was drafted within a year and was forced to dis­band. Upon en­ter­ing the ser­vice, he con­tacted his old friend Miller, who signed him on as a mem­ber of his Army Air Force band. When Miller’s plane dis­ap­peared over the English Channel in December 1944, McKinley and arranger Jerry Gray took over as co-lead­ers of his or­ches­tra. During his time with Miller’s or­ches­tra he also recorded with his own mil­i­tary out­fit, the Swing Shift.

Upon his dis­charge in 1945, McKinley formed a new group which made its de­but the fol­low­ing year. Billed as The Most Versatile Band in the Land,” the new or­ches­tra proved a crit­i­cal and pop­u­lar suc­cess. Eddie Sauter and later Deane Kincaide arranged. Peanuts Hucko played clar­inet. Other mu­si­cians at var­i­ous times in­cluded Sam Butera, Joe Farrante, Mundell Lowe, and Buddy Morrow. Vocalists were Christine Adams, Jean Friley, Ann Hathaway, Marcie Lutes, Artie Malvin, Teddy Norman, Dale Nunally, and Lynn Warren. The band recorded on Majestic un­til 1947 when they signed to RCA Victor, where they stayed un­til 1950.

McKinley dis­banded his or­ches­tra in 1952 but con­tin­ued to per­form and record over the next few years on the Decca and Dot la­bels. In 1956, McKinley was asked by Glenn Miller’s widow to lead a new Miller or­ches­tra. McKinley ac­cepted and for the next ten years he payed trib­ute to his old friend, tour­ing and record­ing for RCA Victor and Epic. In 1966, McKinley de­cided to re­tire, turn­ing the reigns of Miller’s band over to Buddy DeFranco.

Despite his re­tire­ment, McKinley still kept ac­tive in the mu­sic world, play­ing with small groups, mak­ing a few record­ings, and per­form­ing at nos­tal­gia events, in­clud­ing with DeFranco’s Miller band. In the mid-1970s, he moved to Florida, where he con­tin­ued to play lo­cally. Ray McKinley passed away in 1995.

McKinley also served as the or­ches­tra leader on the Be Our Guest tele­vi­sion pro­gram in 1960.


Previous <<
Play > Pause ||
Next >>
0:00 / 0:00
Select a song to play
Play All
  • Jack and Jill
    Will Bradley (Lynn Gardner, Ray McKinley), Columbia (1941)
  • I'm Tired of Waiting for You
    Will Bradley (Lynn Gardner, Ray McKinley), Columbia (1941)
  • Big Boy
    Ray McKinley (Imogene Lynn), Capitol (1942)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.


Select a video to play
  • Screenshot
    "I'm Tired of Waiting for You"
    Will Bradley (Lynn Gardner, Ray McKinley)
    Minoco (1942)
  • Screenshot
    "Big Boy"
    Ray McKinley (Imogene Lynn)
    RKO (1942)

We embed media from YouTube and the Internet Archive. Items may disappear on those services without notice. If you run across something that's no longer available, please let us know so we can remove the embed.

Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.