Ray Ellington (born Harry Pitts Brown, 17 March 1916 – 28 February 1985) was a popular English singer, drummer and bandleader. He is best known for his appearances on The Goon Show from 1951 to 1960. The Ray Ellington Quartet had a regular musical segment on the show, and Ellington also had a small speaking role in many episodes, often as a parodic African, Native American or Arab chieftain (but also often, with no attempt to change his normal accent, as a female secretary or a Scotsman).Ellington was born at 155 Kennington Road, Kennington, London, the youngest of four children. His father was Harry Pitts Brown (c.1877–1920), a black music-hall comedian and entertainer, and his mother was Eva Stenkell Rosenthal (b. c.1879), a Russian Jew. His father died when Brown was four years old. He was brought up as a strictly Orthodox Jew. He attended South London Jewish School (1924–30), before entering show business at the age of twelve, when he appeared in an acting role on the London stage.
Ellington's first break came in 1937 when he joined Harry Roy and His Orchestra as the band's drummer, replacing Joe Daniels. His vocal talents were put to good use too, from the time of his first session when he recorded "Swing for Sale." Ellington was called up in May 1940 when he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a physical training instructor where he served throughout the war. He played in various service bands including RAF Blue Eagles (1945).
After demobilisation, Ellington resumed his career, fronting his own group, playing at The Bag O'Nails club. Early in 1947, he rejoined the Harry Roy band for a few months.
Ellington specialised in jazz but experimented with many other genres throughout the show's history and his musical style was heavily influenced by the comedic jump blues of Louis Jordan. Ellington’s catch-phrase was "That's nice!"
Early in the Goon Show's run, there were many jokes linking Ellington to the African nation of Ghana, thus leading Ellington to say that he came from Ghana. Ironically, his association with the Goons helped him sustain a musical career during an era when British Invasion rock & roll was vanquishing just about any kind of musical performer who did not possess a mop-top haircut and the ability to sing "yeah, yeah, yeah." Not that he stuck to straight jazz when exploiting the popularity of the Goons; he had chart singles in the early '60s, but these were rock and rhythm & blues numbers, some produced by the superb Joe Meek. Ellington's recording of "The Madison" reached #36 in the UK Singles Chart in November 1962.
He was married to Anita West, who was to become the second female presenter of Blue Peter when she replaced Leila Williams, but she only lasted a few weeks in this role. They had two small children (Lance and Nina) when the marriage ended in divorce, due to Ellington's constant touring.
In 1970, Ellington established the popular Ray Ellington Big Band & Singers. For the last decade of his life, Ray continued to lead small groups. He played at the exclusive White Elephant Club in Chelsea and enjoyed a long-term residency at the prestigious London Hilton "Roof Top" restaurant in Park Lane. Ray Ellington died of cancer on 27 February 1985, three weeks short of his 69th birthday.Ray's son Lance Ellington is a singer who has recorded several jazz orientated albums. Lance has also appeared in tributes to Peter Sellers and in the movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, where he played his father.
|Ray and his son Lance.|