Big band drummer Raymond Frederick McKinley was born in Fort Worth on June 18, 1910. His father, Ray Harris McKinley, was a deputy district clerk for Tarrant County and an editor of the Daily Livestock Reporter, and encouraged his son's interest in music. By the age of nine young Ray was playing in the Fort Worth area.
At age fifteen he started touring with big bands such as Duncan Marion's Orchestra and the Tracy Brown Band. In 1932 he joined Smith Ballew's band, with which he earned a reputation as a steady, consistent drummer. Two years later McKinley began playing for the notorious Dorsey Brothers, and after a row caused the brothers to split, he continued to play with Jimmy until 1939. Shortly thereafter, he formed an ensemble with Will Bradley, with whom he toured, recorded, and released hit singles such as "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar" and "Celery Stalks at Midnight."
During World War II McKinley joined the United States Army Air Force and played with the Glenn Miller Band, traveling throughout Europe playing for Allied troops. In 1944, after Miller and most of the band died in a plane crash, McKinley carried on as bandleader, holding the act together for the remainder of the war. Upon returning to America he started his own big band, which included fellow Texans Curley Broyles and Ted Newman.
Although never a major star, McKinley was successful and played throughout the country. In 1956 Miller's widow asked him to head up a new Glenn Miller Orchestra. McKinley enlisted other jazz veterans, and soon they were playing all of the Glenn Miller classics and touring Europe, performing even in Communist Bloc countries. Despite his success, McKinley wanted to return to a career in which he headed his own act and stayed put. His band eventually landed a spot as the house band at the Riverboat in New York City. McKinley continued playing through the 1960s and 1970s and later retired to Key Largo, where he died on May 7, 1995. He was survived by his wife Gretchen Haveman and a daughter.