Hoagy Carmichael

Hoagy Carmichael

Hoagland Howard Carmichael, famously known by the name Hoagy Carmichael was an American songwriter with many a musical pieces known and listened to for ages now. Born in 1899, he lived under the support of an electrician father plus the money earned by his mother from playing piano for silent movies and local dance events. Music had its influence on Carmichael right from an early age as he not only listened to his mother playing but also by getting an exposure to jazz music played by African-American musicians in the neighborhood.

In 1916, when he moved to Indianapolis, Carmichael met an African-American by the name of Reginald DuValle. He was a pianist and started to instruct and mentor Carmichael in jazz. At the same time Carmichael developed his jazz skills on his own too. While he was at the Indiana University, he was the lead in a jazz group. At the same time he also went on to hire a band, a part of which was cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Bix and Carmichael became good friends too.

“Free Wheeling” was the first song that Carmichael wrote for Beiderbecke but the name was later changed to “Riverboat Shuffle”. After that Carmichael turned his attention away from music and joined law school from where he graduated in 1926. But soon afterwards he got a chance to listen to a recording of “Washboard Blues”, another song that Carmichael had written. This caused a change of heart and he left law practice to pursue music as a career.

Carmichael became quite famous in a very short time and by 1929 he carried his talent to New York City and wrote several songs. In 1930, Mitchell Parrish wrote lyrics for “Stardust”, a song written earlier by Carmichael and it became a hit. It has since been recorded over 1,500 times. Louis Armstrong is also among those who recorded it.

“Georgia on My Mind”, “Rockin’ Chair” and “Up the Lazy River”; are some of Carmichael’s other early hits. He also met and became friends with lyricist Johnny Mercer while working on another song of his named “Lazybones”. Not only was his work interpreted by several famous musicians, he himself also performed popular versions of his songs.

Carmichael decided to move to California in 1936 and wrote songs for several films. His various works there include “The Nearness of You”, “Two Sleepy People” and “Heart and Soul”. In 1952, Carmichael and Mercer were awarded with an Academy Award for “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening”; a song they wrote for the movie Here Comes the Groom. Carmichael also appeared in a number of films like the  To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

In the 1950s he continued writing more songs but couldn’t generate the same level of success. He also wrote two biographies, first being The Stardust Road (1946) and then an updated version named Sometimes I Wonder (1965). Eventually he stopped writing adult songs and created a collection of tunes for children, Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop (1971).

Carmichael was awarded a place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971. Having gotten divorced in 1955 from Ruth Meinardi, his first wife with whom he had two children, he married in 1977 again, this time to Wanda McKay. Hoagy Carmichael’s hits generated him enough and steady income to spend a relaxing life in his old age playing golf. He eventually died on 27th December, 1981.


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