Ruby Murray

Ruby Murray (1935-1996)

Ruby Florence Murray was born in Moltke Street and lived in Benburb Street, off Tates Avenue, in the Village area of Belfast. A throat operation, when she was only six weeks old, resulted in a husky throatiness which rendered her voice unique, and her career as a popular singer began early.  Appearing in various variety shows throughout Ulster, she was spotted by producer Richard Afton. Although she made her television debut at the age of twelve, she had to return to school in Belfast until she was fourteen.  In 1954, she travelled to London in comedian Tommy Morgan’s touring revue, ‘Mrs. Mulligan’s Hotel’, and was again seen by Afton, who offered her a position as resident singer on BBC Television’s ‘Quite Contrary’. Ruby was signed to UK Columbia and her first release, ‘Heartbeat’, made the UK Top 5 in 1954. This was followed by ‘Softly, Softly’, which reached number 1 in 1955, and is the song by which she is best remembered. In the early part of 1955, she had five singles in the Top 20 at the same time, an achievement that would be met only by Elvis and Madonna.  In the same year, readers of the New Musical Express voted her Britain's favourite female vocalist (she received over 1,000 votes more than her nearest rival Alma Cogan). She also appeared on film, including the comedy A Touch of the Sun, with Frankie Howard and Dennis Price. She was at the peak of her fame in the mid-1950s, hosting her own television show, starring at the London Palladium in Painting the Town with Norman Wisdom and appearing in a Royal Command Performance. She was also popular abroad, touring the USA, Malta and North Africa.

Her career took a different direction after her 1957 marriage to Bernie Burgess, a member of the vocal group the Jones Boys who she met in Blackpool and secretly married ten days later. With Burgess as her personal manager, they toured as a double act during the early 60s. In 1970, Ruby had some success with ‘Change Your Mind’, and she released an album with the same title. In 1989, Ruby Murray’s EMI Years included other classic songs regularly featured in her act such as ‘Mr Wonderful’, ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ and ‘It’s The Irish in Me’. Ruby did not lose touch with her roots. In 1990 she attended the opening of Windsor Women’s Centre, close to her childhood home in the Village area of Belfast. In the 90’s, based in Torquay, Devon, with her second husband, impresario Ray Lamar, she was still performing in cabaret and in nostalgia shows with other stars of the 50’s.  Her personal life was, however, blighted by battles with alcoholism; her final years were spent in a nursing home where she died on 7 December 1996.

Joan Moules, Softly, softly: the tears behind the triumphs of Ruby Murray (Evergreen, 1995)