A giant among composers of American popular music, Hoagy Carmichael (1899–1981) wrote "Stardust," the song that has according to many reckonings been recorded more often than any other in the history of music. Several other songs—"Georgia on My Mind" and the infectious "Heart and Soul"—have been hardly less popular, reaching nearly universal familiarity among listeners born decades after they were written. Likewise successful as an actor and as a musical performer, he did much to establish the image of the songwriter in the American mind.
Carmichael's songs are often described as nostalgic in tone; many of them unfold in a landscape of American small towns and countryside scenes and draw some of their emotional power from the attachment Americans have held for the country's agrarian past. Country singers including Willie Nelson and Crystal Gayle have shown an affinity for his material. Yet in another way Carmichael was the most modern, the hippest, of his songwriting contemporaries, even though he grew up in Indiana and did not share the urban background that has nurtured the bulk of the popular tradition in his time and in our own. More than almost any other white songwriter of his age (George Gershwin being one of the exceptions), Carmichael understood jazz and incorporated it successfully into his musical language. This insight did not await the investigations of musical historians; jazz musicians, both black and white, took to Carmichael's music from the beginning, and they were the first to identify the incredible potential contained in the wandering melody of "Stardust."
Family Faced Money Problems
Carmichael was born in Bloomington, Indiana on November 22, 1899. His father was an electrician and general laborer who found work only intermittently and often moved the family around as he searched for employment. They traveled as far as Montana at one point, always returning to Indiana. The experience of poverty shaped Carmichael's personality—he had a lifelong skinflint side, even after becoming wildly successful—and gave him an ambitious streak. One positive side to the family's shaky financial straits was that Carmichael's mother, a talented ragtime pianist, took jobs entertaining partygoers at Indiana University fraternities in Bloomington; Carmichael grew up hearing music and sometimes dozed on two pushed-together chairs as his mother played. Sometimes the family lived in racially integrated Bloomington neighborhoods, and Carmichael was exposed to the sounds of African-American gospel music.
Though he assumed he would go into a professional career, there were forces pushing Carmichael toward the arts as well. The family knew the nationally prominent Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley. And when they moved to Indianapolis in 1916, the teenaged Carmichael found himself in a large city that was an important popular-music crossroads. He took piano lessons from an African-American barber and ragtime pianist named Reginald DuValle, and aside from some childhood studies with his mother that was the only structured musical training he ever received. That set him apart from other songwriters, the vast majority of whom had classical training of some sort. Soon Carmichael had dropped out of high school and was playing piano in Indianapolis nightspots high and low, paying the bills by driving a cement truck and working in a slaugh-terhouse during the day. DuValle's son recalled (according to a New York Review of Books article reproduced on the Official Hoagy Carmichael website maintained by his family) that "In our neighborhood we seldom had any white people. So he kind of stood out, if you know what I mean."
Carmichael's mother Lida warned him (as has often been reported, for example by Daniel Okrent in Forbes) that "Music is fun, Hoagland, but it don't buy you cornpone." His financial ambitions reasserted themselves, and he returned to Bloomington to finish high school. Getting wind of the new jazz music of the day, however, he booked a Louisville Band led by a musician named Louie Jordan (not the later singer of "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens") to play a party. Jazz hit Carmichael full force. As quoted on the Hoagy Carmichael website maintained by his family, he recalled that hearing this band "exploded in me almost more music than I could consume." Enrolling at Indiana University, Carmichael took law classes but also formed a jazz band called the Carmichael Syringe Orchestra and Carmichael's Collegians.
A second strong shot of jazz influence came when Carmichael heard a performance by Iowa-born cornetist Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke, often regarded as the first great white jazz musician. Booked by Carmichael for a series of ten fraternity dances, Beiderbecke befriended Carmichael and suggested that he try his hand at songwriting. Carmichael complied with a pair of songs, "Free Wheeling" and "Washboard Blues" (the latter a depiction of an African-American washerwoman), that, thanks to Beiderbecke, began to spread around the Midwestern jazz world. Carmichael bought a cornet and began to play it so obsessively that his friends eventually hid the instrument. He recalled (according to Washington Post writer Martin Weil) that "Bix showed me that jazz could be musical and beautiful as well as hot."
Heard Own Song Performed in Store
Carmichael received his bachelor's degree in 1925 and his law degree the following year. He moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, hoping to cash in on the Florida land boom. Those plans quickly changed when one day he heard a jazz band called Red Nichols & His Five Pennies playing "Washboard Blues" in a local store. He returned north to Indiana and started writing music seriously, making a series of recordings for the Gennett label in Richmond, Indiana, in 1927. Among them was an instrumental called "Star Dust"—originally spelled with two words. The African-American jazz band McKinney's Cotton Pickers performed "Star Dust" and recorded it in 1928, but both their version and Carmichael's own were up-tempo renditions that seemed to smother the melody's delicate filigree. In 1929 he headed for New York City to try to make it in the music business.
Still working days for a stockbroker, he circulated among jazz clubs at night and met Louis Armstrong, whom he had heard and admired in Chicago earlier in the decade, as well as several future swing titans: clarinetist Benny Goodman and bandleader brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. The young lyricist Johnny Mercer became one of his favorite collaborators. Things picked up when he sold "Star Dust" to the Mills Music Company. The song went nowhere when it was issued as a sheet-music instrumental in early 1929, and even a poetic set of lyrics added by songwriter Mitchell Parrish did little to help. Jazz bands continued to be attracted to "Stardust," however, and the Isham Jones Orchestra tried out a slower tempo on a 1930 recording. A flood of other recordings followed, and Bing Crosby had a hit with his vocal version in 1931. Within a few years "Stardust"—a lost-love song about love songs—had achieved the status of standard that it still holds today. Carmichael (as quoted on his family's website) recalled feeling a "queer sensation that this melody was bigger than me" the first time he heard a recording of the song. "Maybe I hadn't written it at all…. I wanted to shout back at it, 'maybe I didn't write you, but I found you.'"
Carmichael was hitting his peak creatively and turned out numerous hits in the early 1930s, many of them sharing the relaxed but jazzy groove of "Stardust." "Rockin' Chair," released in 1930, harked back to the African-American spiritual cadences of Carmichael's youth (he wrote the lyrics himself) in its depiction—quite unusual for a popular song—of an old woman "chained to my rockin' chair" and awaiting her Judgment Day. Carmichael recorded "Georgia on My Mind" in 1930 and published it the following year. The lyrics were by Carmichael's Indiana classmate Stuart Gorrell.
Beiderbecke's death at age 28 from alcohol-related complications hit Carmichael hard emotionally, and his music, whether for that reason or simply because of larger changes in the language of popular song, gradually became less jazzy. In 1936, the year he married Indianan Ruth Meinardi, Carmichael headed for Hollywood. The pair had two sons, Hoagy Bix and Randy, before divorcing in 1955. Carmichael, often working with lyricist Frank Loesser, had lost none of his melodic gift; his late 1930s hits included "Small Fry," "Two Sleepy People" and, in 1938, "Heart and Soul," a tune so simple that children and other musical novices quickly learn to pick it out on the piano, yet so ingeniously structured as to be instantly memorable for a lifetime. The latter two hits were among the comparatively small number of love songs in Carmichael's oeuvre.
Became Familiar Film Presence
Carmichael's career in the movies began in 1937 with a bit part in Topper. He performed his own material in many films, playing a nightclub pianist in the 1942 hit To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Carmichael's biographer Richard Sudhalter has credited him with fostering the growth of the singer-songwriter profession in American music; certainly he was in the minority among songwriters of his time in becoming well known for his own renditions of his songs. The year 1942 brought Carmichael another major song hit with "Skylark," written to a lyric by Johnny Mercer. He sang his own "Ole Buttermilk Sky" in the 1945 Canyon Passage, helping that song along to standard status as well.
As vocalists came to the fore after World War II, a spate of new recordings of Carmichael's songs appeared; during the year 1946, Carmichael songs held three of the top four places on the national Hit Parade ranking at one point. Carmichael continued to write new material, and in 1951 "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," with Mercer once again as lyricist, won an Academy Award for Best Song. He appeared in various films including the Beiderbecke biography Young Man with a Horn, hosted a television show called The Saturday Night Review, and even had a nonmusical role in the late 1950s in the Western television series Laramie.
With the coming of rock and roll, Carmichael's string of hits seemed to be at an end. In the 1960s he wrote two classical orchestral works, Johnny Appleseed and Brown County in Autumn, but they gained little attention. Yet his songbook became ever more securely ensconced in the American musical mind. If "Stardust" became a trifle less pervasive (at least until Willie Nelson's hit recording of 1978), "Georgia on My Mind" gained new life through Ray Charles's recording in 1960, on the album The Genius Hits the Road. It became one of the songs most identified with the great rhythm-and-blues legend.
An enthusiastic golfer and coin collector, Carmichael lived the high life in California in his old age. He married actress Wanda McKay in 1977. Carmichael lived long enough to attend ceremonies for several major awards bestowed upon his body of work; in 1972 he received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Indiana, which established an archive of Carmichael materials in 1986. After suffering a heart attack, he died in Rancho Mirage, California, on December 27, 1981. The awards rolled on, and a Hoagy Carmichael U.S. postage stamp was issued in 1997. Jazz chanteuse Norah Jones's recording of Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" in 2002 testified to the continuing vitality of his work in the new millennium.
Sudhalter, Richard, Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael, Oxford, 2002.
Detroit Free Press, April 5, 2002.
Fortune, March 29, 1999.
New York Review of Books, September 26, 2002.
New York Times, December 28, 1981.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 2, 2002.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), April 14, 2002.
Washington Post, March 31, 2002.
John Edward Hasse, "Brief Biography," The Hoagy Carmichael Collection (University of Indiana), http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/collections/hoagy/research/bio/index.html (December 10, 2005).
"A Short Biography by William L. Wheatley," The Official Hoagy Carmichael Website, http://www.hoagy.com/bio_short.html (December 10, 2005).
"Hoagland 'Hoagy' Carmichael," Red Hot Jazz, http://www.redhotjazz.com/hoagy.html (December 10, 2005).
"Carmichael, Hoagy." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carmichael-hoagy
"Carmichael, Hoagy." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carmichael-hoagy
Composer. Nationality: American. Born: Hoagland Howard Carmichael in Bloomington, Indiana, 22 November 1899. Education: Studied Law at Indiana University, Bloomington. Family: Married Ruth Mary Meinardi, 1936; two sons. Career: Law practice; then band leader, songwriter, and arranger; 1924—first recorded song; 1936—songs for first film, Anything Goes; also composer for Broadway, and performer on radio from 1944, and in films and TV. Award: Academy Award for song "In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening," 1951. Died: 27 December 1981.
Films as Composer:
Anything Goes (Milestone)
Every Day's a Holiday (Sutherland); College Swing (Walsh); Sing, You Sinners (Ruggles)
Road Show (Roach Jr., and Douglas)
Mr. Bug Goes to Town (Fleischer)
True to Life (Marshall)
To Have and Have Not (Hawks) (+ ro)
Johnny Angel (Martin) (+ ro); The Stork Club (Walker) (+ ro)
Canyon Passage (Tourneur) (+ ro); The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler) (+ ro)
Night Song (Cromwell) (+ ro)
Johnny Holiday (Holdbeck) (+ ro)
Here Comes the Groom (Capra)
Belles on Their Toes (Levin) (+ ro); The Las Vegas Story (Stevenson) (+ ro)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks)
Timberjack (Kane) (+ ro); Three for the Show (Potter)
Film as Actor:
Young Man with a Horn (Curtiz)
By CARMICHAEL: books—
The Stardust Road, New York, 1948.
With Stephen Longstreet, Sometimes I Wonder, New York, 1965.
On CARMICHAEL: books—
Hoagy Carmichael: Stardust Memories, Miami, 1985.
Hasse, John E., The Classic Hoagy Carmichael, Indianapolis, 1988.
Bradley, Arthur, Silver Threads, El Paso, 1994.
On CARMICHAEL: articles—
Picturegoer (London), 18 January 1947.
The Listener (London), 11 December 1975.
Obituary in Films & Filming, March 1982.
Furness, Adrian, in TV Times (London), 14–20 August 1982.
Hemming, Roy, in The Melody Lingers On: The Great Songwriters and Their Movie Musicals, New York, 1986.
Zinsser, William, "From Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to St. Joe," in American Scholar, Spring 1994.
* * *
Born in Bloomington, Indiana, into a rich and privileged background, Hoagy Carmichael first studied law and even undertook a law practice for a brief period until a chance meeting with the legendary jazz pianist and cornet player, Bix Beiderbecke, completely bowled him over. He took up his musical career then and there, playing piano with Jean Goldkette's band. He never had a formal music lesson in his life—he simply played by ear. Carmichael went on to compose great classics like "Stardust," "Rockin' Chair," "Georgia on My Mind," "Old Buttermilk Sky," "Skylark" and "Lazy Bones." Carmichael's drawling style of singing derived from a black jazz tradition. His phrasing was so very effortless, so lazy, that when he sang, it was Beale Street or Bourbon Street come to bluesy life.
In the 1940s Hoagy Carmichael went to Hollywood where he wrote film tunes as well as making screen appearances (often as a piano-playing character complete with hat over his eyes, a match stuck between his lips and sitting slouched at the keyboard—an image as memorable as that of Dooley Wilson, ("Sam" in Casablanca) in such films as To Have and Have Not, Johnny Angel, The Best Years of Our Lives and Young Man with a Horn (inspired by Beiderbecke), Night Song, The Las Vegas Story, Belles on Their Toes and Timberjack. His role in the movie Canyon Passage made his lean face familiar to millions. In the film he wore a top hat while singing his own composition "Old Buttermilk Sky." He wrote the memorable "In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening" performed by Bing Crosby for Here Comes the Groom which won an Academy Award in 1951.
Carmichael, like Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter, has become a household name in the English-speaking world. He had a knack for writing songs which were both memorable and fresh-sounding and on the occasions when he did collaborate with lyricists, his choice was always impeccable—Johnny Mercer and Sammy Lerner were among his partners. His most famous song was the heavenly "Stardust" which he wrote while still a struggling lawyer. He scribbled the song on the front pages of a lawbook while waiting for business in Florida but he did not get it recorded till several years later. "I figured there ought to be work for a good lawyer because there was all that selling and reselling going on. There probably was too—only I wasn't a good lawyer. A note, to me, was something that belonged on a musical staff. . . ." His death in 1981 was a great loss to American popular music and film.
"Carmichael, Hoagy." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/carmichael-hoagy
"Carmichael, Hoagy." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/carmichael-hoagy
Hoagy Carmichael (hō´gē) (Hoagland Howard Carmichael), 1899–1981, American songwriter, pianist, and singer, b. Bloomington, Ind. While still a student at Indiana Univ. he was influenced by a number of jazz musicians. Several of his jazz tunes, e.g.,
(1924), became popular in the 1920s. He went on to write many songs, of which
(1929) is best known. Others include
"Georgia on My Mind"
"The Nearness of You"
"In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening"
(1951, Academy Award). Carmichael also played in and recorded with a number of bands. His easygoing charm made him a popular celebrity and was apparent in his film roles, e.g., in To Have and Have Not (1944) and Young Man with a Horn (1950).
See his The Stardust Road (1946) and Sometimes I Wonder (with S. Longstreet, 1965).
"Carmichael, Hoagy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carmichael-hoagy
"Carmichael, Hoagy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carmichael-hoagy
"Carmichael, Hoagy." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/carmichael-hoagy
"Carmichael, Hoagy." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/carmichael-hoagy
Most of the popular music composers of the first half of the twentieth century were born into homes of wealthy parents. The State of Indiana produced two of the most prominent composers, Cole Porter, a Yale graduate, whose grandfather had made millions of dollars in the Western timber industry. The other was Hoagland Howard Carmichael, (later nicknamed Hoagy by a college sweetheart), born November 22, 1899 in Bloomington, Indiana, the son of Howard Clyde Carmichael, an itinerant laborer and Lida Mary Robinson. Hoagy’s father frequently moved his family around the Midwest in search of steady work, but always returned to Indiana. The elder Carmichael had served in the Spanish American War and was a middle–weight regimental boxing champion and nicknamed “Cyclone.” Hoagy’s mother helped supplement the family income by playing piano in the local silent movie house, social functions and at university dances. In 1944 she was named the State of Indiana Mother of the Year.
Carmichael learned to play the piano at an early age by his mother and when he was sixteen the family moved to Indianapolis where he further studied with a black ragtime pianist, Reggie Duval. He dropped out of high school in 1915 and worked as a cement mixer on a twelve hour shift. Always fascinated with jazz sounds, he returned to Bloomington in 1919 to complete his high school education and study ragtime composition with Duval.
In 1920, Carmichael entered the University of Indiana where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree and then a Law Degree in 1926. It was also here where he formed his own small band calling it Carmichael’s Collegians. The band helped him become a campus celebrity. The next several years brought him close to many jazzmen including the legendary cornet player, Bix Beiderbecke, who would remain a close friend and an enormous musical inspiration for many years. His first song to be recorded was “Riverboat Shuffle. It was written in 1922 for Beiderbecke.
After graduating from law schoool, he began a long time relationship with the New York music publisher, Mills Music and wrote “Boneyard Shuffle” and “Washboard Blues.” By 1927, he had joined the Florida Law Firm of Carmichael and Carmichael—no relation—in West Palm Beach. While struggling as a young lawyer, he scribbled a song on the front pages of a law book waiting for business. He once remarked that he went to Florida to start a law career because of the real estate boom in those days. “I figured there ought to be work for a good lawyer there because of all that selling and reselling going on,” Carmichael recalled in an interview some years later. “There probably was, too—only I wasn’t a
Born Hoagland Howard Carmichael November 22, 1899 in Bloomington, IN, (died December 27, 1981 Rancho Mirage, CA after a heart attack); son of Howard Clyde Carmichael and Lida Mary Robison; married Ruth M. Meinardi in NY, 1936, (divorced 1955); children: Hoagland Bix Jr., born 1938, Randy Bob, born 1940 ; married Dorothy Wanda McKay in June 20, 1977. Education: Graduated from the University of Indiana at Indianapolis with a Bachelors Degree and a Law Degree; studied with Reggie Duval, Ragtime Musician..
First published work was “Riverboat Shuffle,” 1926; “Washboard Blues” and “Barnyard Shuffle” followed in 1927; wrote his greatest hit, “Stardust” with lyrics added two years later by Mitchell Parish; is credited with writing over 500 songs including over fifty classic “standards;” appeared in ten Hollywood films.
Awards: Academy Award, Best Song, “In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening,” 1951; elected to Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1971; awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Indiana University, 1972; Star Dust Trail Award by the Newport Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall, NY, 1979.
good lawyer. A note to me was something that belonged on a musical staff.”
Carmichael loved music and enjoyed composition and not long after arriving in Florida, Carmichael heard Red Nichol’s version of his “Washboard Blues” and concluded he was not suited for the legal profession. He resigned from the firm and returned to Bloomington after unsuccessfully making it on New York’s Tin Pan Alley. For the next two years Carmichael performed with Jean Gold–kette’s band and musician Don Redman learning to read music, as wellas continuing to compose with “Stardust” gathering dust. It would later be named the all time favorite song.
“Stardust” was not recorded until several years later as a ragtime piece by Don Redman and the McKinney Cotton Pickers, a black jazz ensemble. The song made little impression and it was later changed to a slower tempo at the advice of arranger Jimmy Dale. Carmichael soon realized the potential of the newly arranged song and with the recommendation of his publisher, Irving Mills, Mitchell Parish was brought in to write lyrics. By 1929, Carmichael had gone to Hollywood but the gates to the big silver screen studios were also firmly closed to him. He returned to New York by hitch–hiking across the country and worked as a song plugger for Mills Music. During this time the melody for “Stardust” was completed and he returned to New York and organized another band. “Stardust” had been conceived when Carmichael had made a visit to his old alma mater at the University of Indiana in 1927. He recalled a girl he had once loved and lost as he sat on the campus “spooning wall” one evening. He went to the university “Book Nook,”, which had a piano and wrote the first version of the melody as a piano instrumental. A classmate, Stuart Gorrell, named the composition when he heard it because “it sounded like dust from stars drifting down through the summer sky.” Gorrell later became an executive with the Chase Manhattan Bank and co–wrote the classic “Georgia on My Mind” with Carmichael. In 1929, lyrics were added by Mitchell Parish at the urging of Carmichael’s publisher, Irving Mills and, that same year, it was introduced at the Cotton Club in New York. The big break for Carmichael came when Isham Jones recorded the song. Subsequent renditions by other artists including Artie Shaw in 1940 sold over two million copies and helped make it a classic “standard.” Walter Winchell, the syndicated New York columnist thought it was gorgeous and lyricist Mitchell Parish recalls, “He was so crazy about it that he plugged it almost daily in his column. Even years later I recall sitting in the; Copa [Copa Cabana Night Club in NewYorkCity] one night and listening to Nat King Cole. Nat sang ‘Stardust’ to a beautiful arrangement by Gordon Jenkins and everybody in the place, including Winchell, had a tear in his eye. I’ve heard the song done thousands of times, but I remember Nat’s rendition above all others.”
“Stardust” has also been recorded over five hundred times in over fifty arrangements for every possible instrument or combination of instruments. Its lyrics have been translated into over forty different languages. It may be the only song recorded on both sides of a phonograph record by two different bands. Oneside was a presentation by Tommy Dorsey and on the flip side a recording by Benny Goodman and his orchestra. It has become the most recorded American popular musical composition and in 1964 the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), celebrating its 50th Anniversary, released its all time Hit Parade and “Stardust” was included.
In 1930, Carmichael again joined with classmate Stuart Gorrell to write the ever popular “Georgia on My Mind.” Its first recording was made on September 15, 1930 by a band led by Carmichael that included Bix Beiderbecke in one of his last recording sessions. Contrary to popular belief, Carmichael did not write “Georgia on My Mind” with reference to the State of Georgia” but to his sister Georgia, who was going through a terrible divorce at the time the song was being written. It was written by Carmichael to entice his publisher to pay him $35 a week against “Stardust” royalties. “Rockin Chair” was also written in 1930 and ten years laterCarmichael was sitting in Billy Berg’s Club, at Hollywood’s Vine Street night club when an unknown singer sang “Ol Rockin Chair”. Carmichael was so impressed at the young singer, he went to the stage and served as his mentor by obtaining immediate work for him at $75.00 a week. The singer Francesco Lo Vecchio laterchanged his name to Frankie Laine and launched a career that has spanned sixty years. “Ol Rockin Chair” and “Georgia on My Mind” were both released successfully by singer Mildred Bailey and the former became her theme song. “Georgia On My Mind” was revived by singer Ray Charles in the 1950’s and has remained a big hit ever since.
From 1931 –34 Carmichael added additional “standards” that included “Lazy River,” co–written with Sidney Arodin, a New Orleans clarinetist, and “In the Still of the Night.” The warm and gentle flow of its melody comes from the relaxed easy going sounds that were typical of many New Orleans great clarinetists of the time He also collaborated with struggling lyricist Johnny Mercer to issue “Lazybones”, which they claim was written in only twenty minutes. Another song that was very popular in 1934 was his song called “Judy.” Although it never became a standard, it was so popular at the time that Ethel Frances Gumm took the stage name, Judy Garland.
In 1937 Carmichael married Ruth M. Meinardi, a young model in New York City; he joined Paramount Pictures as a staff songwriter that same year. He appeared in his first of many films, Topper, and performed his composition “Old Man Moon” which starred Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. That same year he added another classic “standard” to his repertoire in “The Nearness of You” in collaboration with Ned Washington. This song was later added to the Paramount motion picture Romantic in the Dark. 1938 brought three more standards, “Heart and Soul,” “Two Sleepy People,” and “Small Fry.” “Heart and Soul” was written by Carmichael and lyricist Frank Loesserfor Paramount Pictures, and Carmichael once remarked the song was kicked around the rooms of the studio so much that the best use it got was for actor Anthony Quinn’s voice practice. However, it became a big hit in 1938 when Bea Wain performed it with the Larry Clinton Orchestra and it was revived by the Four Aces in the mid fifties and became a hit again.
When Carmichael was still in school at the University of Indiana, a friend gave him a poem on a scrap of paper with the notion of turning it into a musical piece. Carmichael wrote the melody for it but put it aside and forgot about it. Years later he came across it and decided it was good enough to be published. Unfortunately, he had no idea who the lyricist was other than the initials “J. B. penned on the original poem. He recruited his friend Walter Winchell to read a few lines on the air and asked that the person who wrote it come forward. Forty eight people claimed to have written the lovely poem but all proved to be fakes. Finally, he received word that the poem had once appeared in an old issue of Life Magazine and the authorship was traced to Jane Brown–Thompson of Philadelphia. The song, “I Get Along Without You Very Well” was introduced on the radio by Dick Powell on January 19, 1940. The day before Jane Brown–Thompson died never knowing that the beautiful poem she had written when she was a young widow had become a hit. Frank Sinatra’s version in the mid–1950’s helped resurrect his slipping career.
In 1940 Carmichael and Johnny Mercer introduce the Broadway Musical, Walk With Music, at the Ethel Barrymore Theater; it closed after only three weeks. They would later combine to write two “standards”, “Skylark” and “Baltimore Oriole”. In 1942 Frank Sinatra recorded his first solo, “The Lamplighter’s Serenade”, a product of Carmichael and Paul Francis Webster. “Hong Kong Blues,” “How Little We Know,” and “Old Master Painter,” were three more “standards” added over the next three years and the first two were added into the film, To Have and To Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. ToHaveandToHaveNota\so marked Carmichael’s film debut as an actor. Over the next three years he appeared in a number of films and his song “Ole Buttermilk Sky” was nominated for an Academy Award in the film Silver Saddle.
Throughout the forties and fifties, Carmichael continued to appear in motion pictures and wrote overf ive hundred musical compositions including “In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening” that won an Academy Award in 1951 with Johnny Mercer. The song was performed by Bing Crosby in the Paramount motion picture Here Comes the Groom. In 1955, he divorced his first wife, Ruth Menardi. In addition his voice became familiar to millions through radio with a Sunday evening show entitled Open House at Hoagy’s and Tonight at Hoagy’s on the Mutual Network in 1944. The Hoagy Carmichael Show was introduced on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1946; he also made other guest appearances on radio and later on television programs.
In 1965 he published his second book of memoirs, Sometimes I Wonder. Singer Peggy Lee was riding on a plane with him at the time and suggested the title before it was published. Carmichael received a series of awards and honors over the next few years including the initial induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame with Duke Ellington and eight others. In 1977 he married actress Dorothy Wanda McKay after a fifteen year courtship.
Carmichael appeared in ten motion pictures, the western television series Laramieand his songs have been heard in over a hundred motion pictures from the 1930’s through much of the 1990’s. He also appeared in the RKO Academy Award winning motion picture, The Best Years of Our Lives, in 1946 and frequently appeared as a singer/pianist and as a character actor. Prior to his death, he spent a great deal of time playing golf, collecting rare coins and making guest appearances on television. He continued to write compositions but none rivaled his earlier writings.
He passed away after suffering at heart attack at his home in Rancho Mirage, California on December 27, 1981 and was returned to his native Bloomington, Indiana and buried on January 4, 1982. The University of Indiana maintains a lively memorial to their famous songwriter and performing artist, which contains a large collection of memorabilia donated by the Carmichael family including photographs, a piano, music manuscripts, scrapbooks and paintings housed in the Hoagy Carmichael Room in Bloomington.
Stardust and Much More, RCA BMG Bluebird 8333–2–RB.
In Hoagland, DRG 5197.
The Music of Hoagy Carmichael, Audiophile Records ACD– 220.
The Song Is Hoagy Carmichael, Academy of Sound and Vision LTD
Stardust: Capitol Sings Hoagy Carmichael, Volume 15, Gold Rush 32592.
Hoagy Carmichael: Ole Buttermilk Sky, Collectors Choice Music.
The Hoagy Carmichael Songbook, RCA 2148.
Great American Composers: Hoagy Carmichael, Columbia C21–22 8105.
The Jazz Greats Play Hoagy Carmichael, Prestige Records PRCD 24191–2.
Carmichael Sings Carmichael, Aero Space Records 51011.
Hooray for Hoagy!, Audiophile ACD–251.
Carmichael, Hoagy and S. Longstreet, Sometimes I Wonder Why, Farrar, Staus and Giroux 1965.
Ewen, David, American Popular Songs: From the Revolutionary War to the Present, Random House, 1966.
Ewen, David, American Songwriters, H. W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Feather, Leonard, Encyclopedia of Jazz, Horizon Press, 1960.
Gammond, Peter, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music, Oxford Univ. Press 1993.
Harrison, Nigel, Songwriters, A Biographical Dictionary With Discographies, McFarland and Company Inc. 1998.
Jablonski, Edward, Harold Arlen Rhythm Rainbows And Blues, Northeastern University Press 1996.
Lax, Roger & Frederick Smith, The Great Song Thesaurus, Oxford Univ. Press 1989.
Maltin, Leonard, Movie and Video Guide 1995, Penguin Books Ltd., 1994.
Simon, W. L., Readers Digest Treasury of Best Loved Songs, Readers Digest, 1972.
Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, St. Martins Press, 1966.
Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1981.
New York Times, December 28, 1981.
Hoagy Carmichael, www.hoagy.com (September 1999).
Additional information was obtained through two interviews with Frankie Laine in October and November 1998.
—Francis D. McKinley
"Carmichael, Hoagy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carmichael-hoagy
"Carmichael, Hoagy." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/carmichael-hoagy