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 Indiana University at Bloomington with a bachelor's degree and a law degree.
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 Indiana University 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 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 Goldkette's band and musician Don Redman learning to read music, as well as 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 Indiana University 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 New York City] 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. One side 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 later Carmichael 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 later changed 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 Loesser for 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 Indiana University, 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. To Have and To Have Not also 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 over five 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.
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. Indiana University 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.
by Francis D. McKinley
Hoagy Carmichael's Career
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.
Hoagy Carmichael's 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.
- Selected discography
- 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.
April 15, 2005: The Hoagy Carmichael Landmark Project in Bloomington, Indiana, plans to dedicate a bronze statue of Carmichael on the spot near Indiana University where he composed "Stardust." The statue will be created by artist Michael McAuley and will be unveiled in May, 2006. Source: Associated Press, http://hosted.ap.org, April 15, 2005.
- 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.