PHOENIX - Ray Boley, 87, founder of Canyon Records, a record label specializing in the production and distribution of American Indian music, died recently at his home in Phoenix.
A native of Pittsburgh, Boley was involved in the fields of radio, advertising, film and record production. He moved to Phoenix after military service in World War II. In 1948, after a stint at KOY radio, he opened the first recording studio in Arizona called Arizona Recording Productions. In 1951 he launched two media enterprises, Canyon Films and Canyon Records.
Under Boley, Canyon Films became the leading documentary and commercial film company in Arizona, producing films for such Fortune 500 companies as General Electric, Motorola and Del Webb in addition to many government and social agencies.
Boley's Canyon Records, which became the leading record label specializing in American Indian music as well as the first national and international distributor of Native music, began with a chance meeting. The Phoenix Little Theater asked Boley to record a singer named Ed Lee Natay for one of their productions. Immediately entranced by what he heard and motivated by no more than the conviction that the world needed to hear Natay's singing, Boley decided to produce and release an album titled, "Natay, Navajo Singer."
To launch this recording Boley and his first wife, Mary (who died in 1990), took a booth at the 1951 Arizona State Fair where most of the passersby found the album only a curiosity. But for American Indians it was a revelation as most of them had never seen or heard a commercial recording of their music before. A Hopi jeweler at an adjoining booth asked Boley why he didn't record Hopi music. Inspired by this suggestion, he began searching out and recording music from other tribes, and so Canyon Records was born. As Canyon Films flourished in the 1950's and 1960's, Boley continued to record and produce Native American music.
In 1971 Boley sold Canyon Films and devoted himself full time to Canyon Records. He expanded his recording efforts, spending many weeks traveling in a motor home from pow wow to pow wow and from reservation to reservation recording both traditional and contemporary tribal artists. Boley also worked long hours at the difficult task of developing a distribution network for not only Canyon's albums but those of other record companies as well. In addition, Boley opened a store (still in operation as Drumbeat Indian Arts) across from the Phoenix Indian Hospital which became an important cultural center for the Native community.
Before his retirement in 1992, Boley produced over 300 albums of Native music which included "Canyon Trilogy" and "Earth Spirit" by R. Carlos Nakai which would earn the first and only gold records (over 500,000 albums sold) for Native American music. In 1995 he was recognized by the Phoenix Indian Center for "Outstanding Contribution to the Indian Community by a Non-Indian." In 1999 he received the "Native Heart" award from the Native American Music Awards in recognition for his contributions to Native music. Boley is survived by his second wife, Monica.