Ray Columbus stepped into the spotlight at the tender age of 19, and remained there, in various guises, for more than 50 years. His career as a musician, TV presenter and artist manager established him as one of our biggest and brightest entertainers, recognised in his numerous awards and accolades, and the many moving tributes upon news of his death last year.
In 1962, while touring in Christchurch, Howard Morrison caught a show by young band Ray Columbus and The Invaders, and swiftly encouraged them to seek fame and fortune in Auckland. Fast forward 18 months and The Invaders had taken the country by storm, also topping the Australian charts with their cover of The Senators She's A Mod. This performance, from Australian TV show Bandstand, captures a sharply suited Columbus dancing the soon-to-be-legendary "mod's nod".
See Ray Columbus and The Invaders performing She's a Mod here:
In 1965, Columbus and The Invaders toured the country with The Rolling Stones, and released the follow-up single Till We Kissed, a ballad written by US hitmakers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The song went Top 10 in New Zealand, and won the first ever Loxene Golden Disc Award (now New Zealand Music Award). However, by the end of the year, The Invaders were no more.
See Ray Columbus and The Invaders performing Till We Kissed here:
After spending some time in America, Columbus returned to New Zealand to work in television, featuring on C'mon, and hosting A Girl to Watch Music By – a show highlighting local female singers. In this famous episode, he plays a ventriloquist's dummy, sitting on Max Cryer's knee while the pair perform Where Would You Be Without Me.
See Ray Columbus and Max Cryer on A Girl to Watch Music By here:
In this 1978 documentary footage, Columbus weighs in on the New Zealand music industry, offering some advice to local radio programmers that, nearly 40 years on, still rings true.
Watch Good Day – The Music and Record Industry here:
The 1980's saw Columbus host one of New Zealand's highest rating shows. That's Country featured a mix of local and international talent, bringing artists together for a good ol' fashioned hoedown. This episode finds him wearing an obligatory Stetson, and mixing it up with veteran Kiwi country performers (John Hore, Patsy Riggir) and trans-Tasman pop star Dinah Lee. In a New Zealand first, the series was later sold to a Nashville cable TV network, bringing it an audience of 30 million US viewers.
Watch an episode of That's Country here:
In this ScreenTalk interview, filmed in 2010, Columbus reflects on his life in entertainment – from his early days in music, to his extensive television career. Along the way, he remembers his excitement at appearing on C'Mon, his fear of fan's reactions to him hosting That's Country and much more.
Watch Ray Columbus: Creator of the Mod's Nod here:
You can see more classic Ray Columbus footage here, in NZ On Screen's Spotlight collection.