The musical life of Ruby Murray

By Martin Gleeson


Anyone who uses Cockney rhyming slang and who likes Indian food will be familiar with the expression ‘going for a Ruby Murray’. Of course, it means ‘going for a curry’.

Many will not know that the name refers to an Irish singer who was extremely popular during the 1950s and had ten hit records in the UK charts in those years.


Ruby Murray came from the Dongeall Road in Belfast. Because of an operation on her throat when she was a child, her voice had a very distinctive sound, and she first sang in public when she was 5. Her first appearance on TV was at the age of 12, in 1947.
However, due to the laws governing child performers, Ruby had to stay in school in Belfast until she was 14.


Ruby began touring Ireland and England, often in fit-up shows where the artists had to do many of the extra jobs, like selling programmes, acting as usherettes or moving scenery.

In 1954, her performance on a BBC TV show was an instant success and this led to her recording career. Her first recored was a moderate success but her first real hit was ‘Heartbeat’ in November 1954. She followed that with, ‘Softly, Softly’, released in January 1955. Set to strings and harp, this song climbed to Number 1 in the charts and stayed there for 22 weeks. It became Ruby’s signature tune and even today mention of Ruby Murray quickly reminds people of these words:
‘Softly, softly come to me
Touch my lips so tenderly
Softly, softly turn the key
And open up my heart.’


Ruby’s success as a recording artist broke many records. She was the first singer ever to have 5 recordings in the Top Twenty charts in the one week! And nobody since then has had more than that.

Starting in December 1954 and lasting until November 1955, Ruby had one or more singles in the Top Twenty every single week.
I can still remember her voice on the radio singing her 1959 hit:
‘Goodbye, Jimmy, goodbye,
Goodbye, Jimmy, goodbye,
I’ll see you again, but I don’t know when
Goodbye, Jimmy, goodbye….”

In an English newspaper in 1955 and 1956, Ruby was voted ‘The Most Popular Female Vocalist’.
Later, she was voted the ‘Most Popular Female Singer in the World’ after Doris Day.

As well as that, she had great success as a live performer. She sang in the most prestigious theatres in Britain. For over 7 months in 1955 Ruby also starred along with Norman Wisdom in the London Palladium.


While working during the summer season in Blackpool in 1957, Ruby met Bernie Burgess, a singer with the Four Jones Boys quartet. They fell in love and got married six weeks later.

In the 1960s, Bernie often appeared on stage with Ruby in a song-and-dance act. Bernie was a supportive husband during Ruby’s singing career. They had two children, Julie (1960) and Tim (1965), both of whom followed their parents into the entertainment industry.


Even though her singing career kept her in Britain for most of her working life, Ruby was always proud of her Irish origins. A great deal of her repertoire consisted of Irish songs and she recorded many of them.
This is just a sample of Ruby’s Irish recordings: ‘At Finnegan’s Ball’, ‘Boys From County Armagh’, ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly’, ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Doonaree’, ‘Galway Bay’, and ‘The Green Glens Of Antrim’.


Ruby moved to Torquay in the 1970s. She always suffered from nerves before going on stage and although she was no longer a major star, she continued performing until close to the end of her life. She spent her last years in a nursing home and many of her old showbiz friends, like Max Bygraves, visited her. The Irish colleen who was often called the ‘Heartbeat Girl’ died in December 1996.


Ruby was commemorated in February 2019, when a blue plaque was unveiled on Belfast’s Donegall Road, close to where she was born.
And a the same time, a play based on the life and music of Ruby, called ‘Ruby’, opened in the Lyric Theatre, Belfast and played to full houses. Just like Ruby herself would have done!