American composer and author Alec Wilder+ wrote of Carmichael in ''American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950'' that he was the "most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented" of the hundreds of writers composing pop songs in the first half of the 20th century.
Born in Bloomington+, Indiana+, Carmichael was the only son of Howard Clyde Carmichael, of Scottish ancestry, and Lida Mary (Robison). He was named Hoagland after a circus troupe "The Hoaglands" who stayed at the Carmichael house during his mother's pregnancy. Howard was a horse-drawn taxi driver and electrician, and Lida a versatile pianist who played accompaniment at silent movies and for parties. The family moved frequently, as Howard sought better employment for his growing family. At six, Carmichael started to sing and play the piano, easily absorbing his mother's keyboard skills; he never had formal piano lessons. By high school, the piano was the focus of his after-school life, and for inspiration he would listen to ragtime pianists Hank Wells and Hube Hanna. At eighteen, the small, wiry, pale Carmichael was living in Indianapolis, trying to help his family’s income working in manual jobs in construction, a bicycle chain factory, and a slaughterhouse. The bleak time was partly spelled by four-handed piano duets with his mother and by his strong friendship with Reg DuValle, a black bandleader and pianist known as "the elder statesman of Indiana jazz" and "the Rhythm King", who taught him piano jazz improvisation.
The death of his three-year-old sister in 1918 affected him deeply, and he wrote "My sister Joanne—the victim of poverty. We couldn’t afford a good doctor or good attention, and that’s when I vowed I would never be broke again in my lifetime." She may have died from influenza, which had swept the world that year. Carmichael earned his first money ($5.00) as a musician playing at a fraternity dance that year and began his musical career.
Carmichael attended Indiana University+ and the Indiana University School of Law+, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1925 and a law degree in 1926. He was a member of the Kappa Sigma+ fraternity and played the piano all around the state with his "Collegians" to support his studies. He met, befriended, and played with Bix Beiderbecke+, the cornetist, sometime pianist and fellow mid-westerner. Under Beiderbecke’s spell, Carmichael started to play the cornet as well, but found that he didn't have the lips for it, and played it for only a short while. He was also influenced by Beiderbecke's impressionistic and classical musical ideas. On a visit to Chicago, Carmichael was introduced by Beiderbecke to Louis Armstrong+, who was then playing with King Oliver+’s Creole Jazz Band, and with whom he would collaborate later.
He began to compose songs, "Washboard Blues+" and "Boneyard Shuffle" for Curtis Hitch, and also "Riverboat Shuffle+", recorded by Beiderbecke, which became a staple of jazz and Carmichael’s first recorded song. After graduating in 1926, he moved to Miami to join a local law firm but, failing the bar exam, returned to Indiana in 1927. He joined an Indiana law firm and passed the state bar, but devoted most of his energies to music, arranging band dates, and "writing tunes". He had discovered his method of songwriting, which he described later: "You don't write melodies, you find them…If you find the beginning of a good song, and if your fingers do not stray, the melody should come out of hiding in a short time."
Later in 1927, Carmichael’s career started off well. He finished and recorded one of his most famous songs, "Star Dust+" (later renamed "Stardust", with Mitchell Parish+'s lyrics added in 1929), at the Gennett Records+ studio in Richmond, Indiana+, with Carmichael doing the piano solo. The song, an idiosyncratic melody in medium tempo – actually a song about a song – later became an American standard, recorded by hundreds of artists. Shortly thereafter, Carmichael received more recognition when Paul Whiteman+ recorded "Washboard Blues+", with Carmichael playing and singing, and the Dorsey brothers and Bix Beiderbecke in the orchestra. Despite his growing prominence, at this stage Carmichael was still held back by his inability to sight-read and notate music properly, although he was innovative for the time. With coaching, he became more proficient at arranging his own music.
His first major song with his own lyrics was "Rockin' Chair+", recorded by Armstrong and Mildred Bailey+, and eventually with his own hand-picked studio band (featuring Bix, Bubber Miley+, Benny Goodman+, Tommy Dorsey+, Bud Freeman+, Eddie Lang+, Joe Venuti+, and Gene Krupa+) on May 15, 1930. In the future, however, most of Carmichael's successful songs would have lyrics provided by collaborators. After realizing that he missed making music and was not cut out to be a lawyer, Carmichael left his law practice and started working with musicals in Hollywood+. He stayed with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra for a while but no work came of it and he moved to New York City in the summer of 1929.
In New York, Carmichael met Duke Ellington+'s agent and publisher Irving Mills+ and hired him to set up recording dates. In October 1929 the stock market crashed and Carmichael's hard-earned savings declined substantially. Fortunately, Louis Armstrong then recorded "Rockin' Chair+" at Okeh+ studios, giving Carmichael a badly-needed boost. He had begun to work at an investment house and was considering a switch in career when he composed "Georgia on My Mind+" (lyrics by Stuart Gorrell+), perhaps most famous in the Ray Charles+ rendition recorded many years later.
Carmichael arranged and recorded "Up a Lazy River+" in 1930, a tune composed by Sidney Arodin+. Carmichael and his band first recorded "Stardust" as an instrumental in 1927. The tune later had lyrics added by Mitchell Parish+ and was recorded by Bing Crosby+ in 1931. He joined ASCAP+ in 1931 and began working for Ralph Peer’s Southern Music Company in 1932 as a songwriter, the first music firm to occupy the new Brill Building+, famous as a New York songwriting mecca. The Depression rapidly put an end to the jazz scene of the Roaring '20s, as people were no longer attending clubs or buying music. Many musicians were out of work, so Carmichael was fortunate to retain this low-paying, but stable job. Bix Beiderbecke’s early death also darkened Carmichael’s mood. Of that time, he wrote later: "I was tiring of jazz and I could see that other musicians were tiring as well. The boys were losing their enthusiasm for the hot stuff…No more hot licks, no more thrills."
The eulogy for hot jazz, however, was premature, as big-band swing was just around the corner, and jazz would soon turn in another direction, with new bandleaders such as the Dorseys and Benny Goodman+, and new singers such as Bing Crosby+ leading the way. Carmichael’s output soon would be heading in the same direction. In 1933 he began his collaboration with newly arrived lyricist Johnny Mercer+ on "Thanksgiving", "Moon Country", and "Lazybones+", which was a smash hit, selling over 350,000 copies in three months. Carmichael's financial condition improved dramatically as royalties started to pour in, affording him a comfortable apartment and dapper clothes. His social life was also on the upswing, finding him hobnobbing with George Gershwin+, Fred Astaire+, Duke Ellington+, and other music giants in the New York scene.
Carmichael started to emerge as a solo singer-performer, first at parties, then professionally. He described his unique, laconic voice as being "the way a shaggy dog looks.… I have Wabash fog and sycamore twigs in my throat." Some fans were dismayed as he steadily veered away from hot jazz, but recordings by Louis Armstrong continued to "jazz up" Carmichael’s popular songs. In 1935 he left Ralph Peer+’s Southern Music Company and started composing songs for a division of Warner Brothers, establishing his connection with Hollywood. His song "Moonburn", his first movie song, appeared in the film version of ''Anything Goes+''.
In 1935 Carmichael married preacher’s daughter Ruth Menardi. He moved to California and accepted a contract with Paramount for $1,000 a week, joining other songwriters working for the Hollywood studios, including Harry Warren+ (Warners), E. Y. Harburg+ (MGM), Ralph Rainger+ and Leo Robin+ at Paramount. Soon, the Carmichaels were accepted members of the affluent Hollywood community. In 1937 Carmichael appeared in the movie ''Topper+'', serenading Cary Grant+ and Constance Bennett+ with his song "Old Man Moon".
In 1937 he wrote the song "Chimes of Indiana", which was presented to Indiana University as a gift by the class of 1935. It was made the school's official co-alma mater+ in 1978.
Carmichael appeared as an actor in a total of 14 motion pictures, always performing at least one of his songs, including ''Young Man with a Horn+'' (based on friend Bix Beiderbecke+'s life) with Bacall and Kirk Douglas+, and multi-Academy Award winner ''The Best Years of Our Lives+'' with Myrna Loy+ and Fredric March+), in which he teaches a disabled veteran with metal prostheses to play "Chopsticks+". He described his screen persona as the "hound-dog-faced old musical philosopher noodling on the honky-tonk piano, saying to a tart with a heart of gold: 'He'll be back, honey. He's all man'."
When composing, Carmichael was incessant. According to his son Randy, he worked over a song for days or even weeks until it was perfect. His perfectionism extended to his clothes, grooming, and eating as well. Once the work was done, however, Carmichael would cut loose—relax, play golf, drink, and indulge in the Hollywood high life.
Carmichael was a Republican and anti-FDR, voting for Wendell Willkie+ for president in 1940, and was often aghast at the left-leaning political views of his friends in Hollywood. His contribution to the war effort was similar to other patriotic efforts by Irving Berlin+ ("This Is the Army+, Mr. Jones"), Johnny Mercer ("G.I. Jive+"), and Frank Loesser+ ("Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition+"). Carmichael's wartime songs (most with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster+) included "My Christmas Song for You", "Don't Forget to Say 'No' Baby", "Billy-a-Dick", "The Army of Hippocrates", "Cranky Old Yank", "Eager Beaver", "No More Toujours l'Amour", "Morning Glory", and the never-completed "Hitler Blues". He regularly performed on USO shows.
Carmichael's 1942 song "I'm a Cranky Old Yank" was listed in the 1967 edition of the Guinness Book of Records+ under the title "I'm a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with My Honolulu Mama Doin' Those Beat-o, Beat-o Flat-On-My-Seat-o, Hirohito Blues" with the claim that it was the longest song title. However Carmichael admitted it was a joke; the title was intended to end with the word 'Yank'.
Between 1944 and 1948, Carmichael was the host of three musical variety radio programs. In 1944–45, the 30-minute ''Tonight at Hoagy's'' aired on Mutual+ Sunday nights at 8:30 pm (Pacific time), sponsored by Safeway supermarkets. Produced by Walter Snow, the show featured Carmichael as host and vocalist. The musicians included Pee Wee Hunt+ and Joe Venuti+. Fans were rather blunt about his singing, with comments like "you can't sing for sour owl" and "your singing is so delightfully awful that it is really funny". NBC carried the 30-minute ''Something New'' at 6 pm (Pacific time) on Mondays in 1945–46. All of the musicians in this show's band, called the "Teenagers", were between the ages of 16 and 19. Carol Stewart and Gale Robbins+ were the vocalists and comedy was supplied by Pinky Lee+ and the team of Bob Sweeney and Hal March+, later of quiz show fame. ''The Hoagy Carmichael Show'' was broadcast by CBS from October 26, 1946 until June 26, 1948. Luden's Cough Drops sponsored the 15-minute program until June 1947.
In 1948 Carmichael composed a piece called ''Brown County in Autumn'', a nine-minute tone poem which was not well received by critics.
In the early 1950s, variety shows were particularly popular on television. Carmichael hosted ''Saturday Night Review'' in June 1953, a summer replacement series for ''Your Show of Shows+'', but found the pressure too intense and did not return the following summer. About 1955, Carmichael reprised the Dooley Wilson+ role in a short-lived television adaptation of ''Casablanca+'' on ''Warner Brothers Presents+'', playing Sam the piano player.
Carmichael composed seven songs for ''Gentlemen Prefer Blondes+'' (1953) but only two made the final cut: "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love" and "When Love Goes Wrong (Nothing Goes Right)", with Jane Russell+ singing the former. Both songs' lyrics were written by Harold Campbell Adamson.
The advent of rock-and-roll in the mid-50s quickly put an end to the careers of most older artists. As his songwriting career started to ebb, Carmichael's marriage dissolved. Secure with royalties from his past hits, he wrote some songs for children.
Novelist Ian Fleming+ noted that his fictional secret agent character James Bond+ looked like Hoagy Carmichael with a scar on his cheek. Intriguingly, Fleming and Carmichael also shared a resemblance.
In 1960, Ray Charles+' version of "Georgia on My Mind+" was a major hit, receiving Grammys+ both for Best Male Vocal and Best Popular Single. Carmichael's rediscovery, however, did little for such new output as "The Ballad of Sam Older", "A Perfect Paris Night", "Behold, How Beautiful", "Bamboo Curtains", and "Close Beside You", which were almost ignored. For his September 15, 1961, animated guest appearance in "The Hit Songwriters" episode of ''The Flintstones+'', Hoagy wrote and performed a song created especially for the show, "Yabba-Dabba-Dabba-Dabba-Doo". Jerry Lee Lewis+ recorded "Hong Kong Blues" during his final Sun+ sessions in 1963, but it was never released. In 1964, while The Beatles+ were exploding on the scene, Carmichael lamented, "I'll betcha I have twenty-five songs lying in my trunk" and no one was calling to say "have you got a real good song for such-and such an artist". Still, royalties on his standards were earning Carmichael over $300,000 a year.
His attempt to compose movie scores failed when his score for ''Hatari!+'' was replaced by that of Henry Mancini+, although his song "Just for Tonight" (a re-working of "A Perfect Paris Night") is used in the film. With the ''Johnny Appleseed Suite'', Carmichael once again tried his hand at a longer musical composition. By 1967, Carmichael was spending time back in New York but was still unsuccessful with his new songs.
Carmichael was inducted into the USA's Songwriters Hall of Fame+ in 1971 along with Duke Ellington+. As he passed his 70th birthday, Carmichael's star continued to wane and he became almost forgotten in a world dominated by rock music. With the help and encouragement of his son Hoagy Bix, Carmichael participated in the PBS television show ''Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop'', which featured jazz-rock versions of his hits. He appeared on Fred Rogers+ PBS show ''Old Friends, New Friends''. With time on his hands, he resumed painting.
In 1972 Indiana University awarded Carmichael an honorary doctorate in music.
During the concert, a new Carmichael tune, "Piano Pedal Rag", was performed. Afterwards, Carmichael said that he wrote it because he admired the writing of Bix Beiderbecke+ "so much that I didn't want to quit until I wrote something that was a little bit like something Bix might have liked."
On his 80th birthday, Carmichael was reflective, observing, "I'm a bit disappointed in myself. I know I could have accomplished a hell of a lot more... I could write anything any time I wanted to. But I let other things get in the way... I've been floating around in the breeze." Shortly before his death, Carmichael appeared on a UK-recorded tribute album, ''In Hoagland'' (1981), together with Annie Ross+ and Georgie Fame+.
In 1986, the Carmichael family donated his archives, piano, and memorabilia to his alma mater, Indiana University, which established a Hoagy Carmichael Collection in its Archives of Traditional Music and the Hoagy Carmichael Room to permanently display selections from the collection. The Hoagy Carmichael Landmark Sculpture by artist Michael McAuley was dedicated at Indiana University on September 18, 2008. Learn more about the Hoagy Carmichael Collection at http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/collections/hoagy/
Carmichael is memorialized by an Indiana state historical marker+ located near the corner of Kirkwood and Indiana streets in Bloomington, across the street from the heart of Indiana University.
In 2007 Carmichael was inducted into the Gennett Records+ Walk of Fame in Richmond, Indiana+. A bronze and ceramic plaque is placed near the location of the studio where he first recorded "Stardust." And on July 5, 2008, a mural with his portrait was dedicated to him on the south wall of the Readmore building in Richmond, Indiana+.
| 1952 | "Watermelon Weather" | Paul Francis Webster
| 1953 | "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?" | Harold Adamson
| 1953 | "When Love Goes Wrong (Nothin' Goes Right)" | Harold Adamson
Carmichael wrote two autobiographies: ''The Stardust Road'' (1946) and ''Sometimes I Wonder'' (1965). These were combined into a single volume for a paperback published by Da Capo Press+ in 1999. Dick Sudhalter+ published the first full biography of Carmichael, ''Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael'', in 2002.
* Carmichael, Hoagy, and Stephen Longstreet+. ''The Stardust Road and Sometimes I Wonder: The Autobiography of Hoagy Carmichael''. Cambridge, Massachusetts+: Da Capo Press, 1999, ISBN 0-306-80899-4.
* Raykoff, Ivan (2000). ''St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture.'' Gale. Retrieved January 7, 2013 from HighBeam Research+.
Hoagy Carmichael+ Howard Hoagland "Hoagy" Carmichael (November 22, 1899 – December 27, 1981) was an American composer, pianist, singer, actor, and bandleader.