ESCONDIDO, Calif., Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Ray Conniff -- the Grammy-winning arranger, bandleader, composer and trombonist behind some of the biggest pop hits of the 1950s and '60s -- has died. He was 85.
Conniff died at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido on Saturday, reportedly after injuring his head in a fall.
Best known for what became known as "the Ray Conniff sound," the Attleboro, Mass. native recorded more than 100 albums, 25 of which reached the Top 40. He had 10 gold albums and two platinum albums -- "Somewhere My Love," We Wish You a Merry Christmas" -- but was also known within the recording industry as an arranger on dozens of hits for other artists.
Recording industry legend Mitch Miller hired Conniff as an arranger for Columbia Records in 1951. Conniff's work on Don Cherry's 1955 hit "Band of Gold" led to opportunities to arrange for some of the label's leading artists.
He arranged "Just Walking in the Rain" for Johnnie Ray, "Moonlight Gambler" for Frankie Laine, "Singing the Blues" for Guy Mitchell and "A White Sport Coat" for Marty Robbins. He also wrote the charts for some of Johnny Mathis' greatest hits, including "Chances Are," "Wonderful, Wonderful" and "It's Not for Me to Say."
After his initial successes as an arranger at Columbia, Conniff moved up to featured artist in 1956 and his debut album for the label -- "S'Wonderful" -- spent 20 weeks in the Top 20.
Recording with the Ray Conniff Singers and the Ray Conniff Orchestra and Chorus, Conniff specialized in covering popular tunes with his own blend of vocal and instrumental music.
He arrived at his sound by substituting women's voices for trumpets section and men's voices for the saxophones in otherwise fairly standard big band arrangements. At first, the voices backed melodies without words, but Conniff soon moved the voices to the front of the mix.
In 1966, Conniff won a Grammy for best pop performance by a chorus with the Ray Conniff Singers' recording of "Somewhere My Love," the main theme from "Doctor Zhivago."
Earlier this year, Conniff performed the song at the March 16 wedding reception of Liza Minnelli and David Gest.
Other popular Conniff titles included "The Happy Beat," "Happiness Is" and "The Happy Sound of Ray Conniff."
Conniff was born on Nov. 6, 1916. His father was the leader/trombonist and his mother played piano for a local dance band.
Conniff is survived by his wife, Vera, and a daughter, Tamara Conniff, music editor for The Hollywood Reporter.