Raya Garbousova was born in Tiflis in Russia in 1909, where her father was principal trumpet in the Tiflis Symphony Orchestra, and a conservatory professor. She began piano lessons at age four, but later insisted on changing over to the cello. Her first teacher was Konstantin Miniar, a pupil of Davidov. She debuted in Tiflis shortly thereafter, and was immediately praised for her wonderful tone and musicality.
In 1924, at the age of 15, Raya performed in Moscow and Leningrad, performing the Rococo Variations, and was favorably compared to the more mature artist, Emanuel Feuermann (who later became a close friend.) She also played chamber music with Nathan Milstein and Vladimir Horowitz.
In 1925 she went to Leipzig, intending to study cello with Klengel. Klengel interviewed her for three hours, listening to her play etudes and concertos, and proclaimed that she could not be his student because she already knew everything. Later, she studied with Hugo Becker and Casals. Casals urged her to study with Diran Alexanian, who became a tremendous influence in her cello technique and musicianship.
Garbousova knew all the great musicians and composers of the twentieth century, and was responsible for many first performances, including the Martinu Third Sonata, Prokofiev Sonata and the Barber Concerto, which was commissioned and written for her. She played chamber music with Albert Einstein, whom she liked very much, but whom, she said, always played a little bit out of tune.
Raya Garbousova died Tuesday January 28, 1997 in DeKalb, IL, where she had lived and taught at the University of Northern Illinois. A memorial service was held at NIU on April 12, 1997. Internationally renowned cellist Laszlo Varga (of the Borodin Trio and University of Houston Moores School of Music and former Principle cellist of the NY Philharmonic Orchestra conducted an ensemble of 22 cellists. One work performed was the Hommage to Raya, by Gunther Schuller, which was commissioned and premiered in Tempe at the 1990 Cello Congress.