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Nelson Riddle was born in Hackensack, New Jersey on June 1, 1921. He died in Los Angeles on October 6 1985. His musical achievements in the 64 intervening years were immense. His contribution towards the evolution of popular music, particularly in the 50’s and early 60’s was as significant as anyone in that delightful period.

By the mid 1950’s Nelson was established as the outstanding arranger of popular music. Capitol records had the best assembly of vocalists in the business. As well as Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, there were Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Dinah Shore and Keely Smith – Nelson made albums and singles with all of those great performers. During this period, he recorded 18 albums in his own name including the classics “HEY” “LET YOURSELF GO” and “C’MON GET HAPPY”. He also found time to record many singles, including “LISBON ANTIQUA”, – one of the top selling instrumentals of all time. This single provided him with a gold disc.

Nelson was either committed or contracted to Capitol for 12 years from 1950 to 1962. He did “escape” occasionally to work on other labels. The most significant being the 53 tracks that he cut with Ella Fitzgerald in 1959 to comprise the five Verve albums “ELLA SINGS THE GEORGE AND IRA GERSHWIN SONG BOOK”. Arguably Nelson’s greatest work, at the peak of his creative talents.

His outstanding recording achievements, in the 1950’s, inevitably led Nelson into movies and television. Scoring for the big screen was probably his greatest joy. His first was “JOHNNY CONCHO” in 1956. In all, he received five Oscar Nominations “LI’L ABNER”(1959),“CAN-CAN” (1960), “ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS” (1964) and “THE GREAT GATSBY” (1974). He won his Oscar for the “GREAT GATSBY”. His television activity included series with Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Gene Kelly. Nelson was the musical director for the presidential inauguration of John F Kennedy in 1961 and Ronald Reagan in 1985. There were numerous personal appearances on concert tours and special events.

There was a lull in his career during the 1970’s. It was in 1983 that Nelson came out of the wilderness to make an album with Linda Ronstadt, “WHAT’S NEW”. Not only was the album a great success but also it provided him with his second Grammy, 25 years after his first winner for “CROSS COUNTRY SUITE”, recorded with Buddy De Francoin in 1958. Two further albums followed with Linda Ronstadt and another Grammy was awarded for “LUSH LIFE”. In 1985 he made a delightful album with Kiri Te Kanawa. Nelson was back.

He will be remembered for his artistry and creativity – the ability to blend 40 or more musicians into producing some of the outstanding and joyous sounds of the 20th century.

Nelson Riddle’s music will live on well into another millennium.

For further information about Nelson Riddle please contact:

Alan Wright, Nelson Riddle Appreciation Society,
4 Jardine Cottages, Stoke Poges SL2 4BQ
01753 663869


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