photograph: Nelson Riddle and Frank SinatraTHE NELSON RIDDLE COLLECTION. to: HomeABOUT NELSON RIDDLE
photograph: Nelson Riddle and Frank Sinatra
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graphic: Nelson Riddle's signatureDrop Cap: Nelson Riddle is one of the most admired and versatile arrangers/ composers of the post-war era, with major radio, television, film and recording successes to his credit. Equally renowned for his live performances, he served as musical director for Golden Globe Award ceremonies and the Kennedy and Eisenhower inaugurals. The socially-conscious Riddle is recognized for being the first West Coast commercial recording director to break the race barrier by hiring black musicians.

Born in Oradell, NJ in 1921, he began his education as an arranger with Glenn Miller alumnus Bill Finegan. Together, they would sit up all night listening to classical music, especially that of Shostakovich, whose "First Symphony," which premiered in 1937, caught Finegan's attention. From Finegan's teachings, Riddle went on to work as a trombonist and arranger with the Charlie Spivak Orchestra, performed with a Marine Corp Training Band, and also played with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

After serving in the Army for 15 months, Riddle moved to Los Angeles where he worked as an arranger for NBC Radio from 1947 through 1950. Through choral arranger Les Baxter, Riddle met Nat "King" Cole and subsequently served as Cole's lead arranger on more than 15 Capitol records for 10 years. Riddle arranged Cole's hit "Unforgettable," which arrangement was also used in the Grammy-Award-winning duet version by Cole's daughter, Natalie Cole, and Cole. Riddle's arrangement of "Mona Lisa" became Cole's top-selling recording.

Riddle's "big break" came when he was asked to serve as a ghost writer for Frank Sinatra. "The Voice" admired Riddle's arrangements and chose him as his primary arranger. Riddle became known as one of the best arrangers for singers, backing many of Capitol's vocalists including: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Rosemary Clooney, Shirley MacLaine, Keely Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and Linda Ronstadt.

His biggest hit, "Lisbon Antigua," was one of several recordings he made which earned him gold records. Riddle also wrote for television shows, including "The Untouchables," and "Route 66" and served as musical director of "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," and "The Julie Andrews Show."

Riddle's talents extended to include the scoring of motion pictures, such as the Rat Pack classics "Ocean's Eleven" and "Robin and the Seven Hoods," as well as "Harlow," "Red Line 7000," "The Maltese Bippy," "A Rage to Live," and "El Dorado." He also scored such legendary films as "Lolita," "Pal Joey," "High Society," "Can Can," "Guys and Dolls," and "Paint Your Wagon." His score for the 1974 film "The Great Gatsby" earned him an Academy Award. Riddle's many honors include a Grammy Award for "Cross Country Suite" and a DownBeat Award for "Pal Joey."

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