Nelson Smock Riddle, Jr. was an American arranger, composer, bandleader and orchestrator whose career spanned from the late 1940s to the mid 1980s. It was his signature sound and iconic arrangements that defined a generation and his work for Capitol Records kept such vocalists as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney and Keely Smith household names. His multi-Grammy award winning albums with Linda Ronstadt proved that the Riddle sound transcended the generation gap. Nelson Riddle died shortly before the release of his third album with Linda in 1985.
Riddle was born in Oradell, New Jersey, the only child of Marie Albertine Riddle and Nelson Smock Riddle, Sr., and later moved to nearby Ridgewood. Following his father’s interest in music, he began taking piano lessons at age eight and trombone lessons at age fourteen. Riddle and his family had a summer house in Rumson, New Jersey. He enjoyed Rumson so much that he convinced his parents to allow him to attend high school there for his senior year. After his graduation from Rumson High School, Riddle spent his late teens and early 20s playing trombone in and occasionally arranging for various local dance bands, culminating in his association with the Charlie Spivak Orchestra.
In 1943, Riddle joined the Merchant Marine, serving at Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, New York for roughly two years. During this time he continued working for the Charlie Spivak Orchestra and he studied orchestration under his fellow merchant marine, composer Alan Shulman. After his enlistment term ended, Riddle travelled to Chicago to join the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1944; he remained the orchestra’s third trombone for eleven months until drafted by the United States Army in April, 1945.
Just months after Riddle entered the Army, World War II ended and he was discharged after serving fifteen months on active duty. Riddle moved shortly thereafter to Hollywood to pursue his career as an arranger and spent the next several years writing arrangements for multiple radio and record projects.