British orchestra leader Ray Noble found success on both sides of the Atlantic. He rose to prominence in his native land during the mid-1920s and in 1929 was appointed Director of Light Music at British label HMV. There he led the New Mayfair Orchestra, a studio group which featured some of the best British musicians of the day, borrowed for pick-up work from other bands, mainly that of Lew Stone. Notable was vocalist Al Bowlly, who recorded many sides with Noble's orchestra. In 1933 Noble toured for the first time, taking a hand-picked outfit to the Netherlands. It was the first time that he led a group in public.
Noble's recordings sold well in the United States, and in 1934 he decided to move across the Atlantic, taking Bowlly with him. In contrast to the straight dance music that his British orchestra had played Noble embraced jazz upon his arrival in America. He employed Glenn Miller to assemble him a top notch band, and Miller did just that. Noble's new group featured such talented artists as trumpeters Charlie Spivak and Pee Wee Erwin, trombonist Will Bradley, saxophonist Bud Freeman, guitarist Fred van Eps, and pianist Claude Thornhill.
Noble's orchestra settled in at the Rockefeller Center's Rainbow Room in 1935, with Miller taking on much of the arranging duties. Though jazz was prevalent in its book it was on the ballads where the group shined, particularly on numbers which featured Bowlly. Noble's American band never did as well as his British outfit, partly due to inferior recordings and partly due to Noble's inability to completely grasp and exploit the abilities of his musicians. He often seemed in awe of his men's talent, as if he couldn't believe what he heard.
Though Noble's orchestra proved popular with the public, backstage the story was not as happy. Miller emerged as a favorite among many of the men, a fact often resented by Noble. The band also put in a grueling schedule, working well into the night seven days a week. Stress levels were high, and many of the key musicians had left by the end of 1936. In 1937 open conflict broke out amongst the members with the result that Noble quit as leader and the group disbanded.
After his orchestra broke up Noble left New York for the West Coast, where he formed another less-noted band and served as musical director on the Burns and Allen and Edgar Bergan and Charlie McCarthy radio programs. He also worked sporadically in Hollywood, scoring for several films and appearing in two. Noble remained in the United States until at least 1959. He eventually returned to England, retiring to Jersey in the Channel Islands. Ray Noble died of cancer in 1978.