Hoagland Howard "Hoagy" Carmichael (November 22, 1899 – December 27, 1981) was an American songwriter, musician, actor, singer and attorney. American composer and author Alec Wilder described Carmichael as the "most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented of all the great craftsmen" of pop songs in the first half of the 20th century. Carmichael was one of the most successful Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1930s, and was among the first singer-songwriters in the age of mass media to utilize new communication technologies such as television, electronic microphones, and sound recordings.
Carmichael composed several hundred songs, including 50 that achieved hit record status. He is best known for composing the music for "Stardust", "Georgia on My Mind" (lyrics by Stuart Gorrell), "The Nearness of You", and "Heart and Soul" (in collaboration with lyricist Frank Loesser), four of the most-recorded American songs of all time. He also collaborated with lyricist Johnny Mercer on "Lazybones" and "Skylark". Carmichael's "Ole Buttermilk Sky" was an Academy Award nominee in 1946, from Canyon Passage, in which he co-starred as a musician riding a mule.
Hoagland Howard "Hoagy" Carmichael was born in Bloomington, Indiana, on November 22, 1899, the first child and only son of Howard Clyde and Lida Mary (Robison) Carmichael. His parents named him after a circus troupe called the "Hoaglands" that had stayed at the Carmichael house during his mother's pregnancy. Howard worked as a horse-drawn taxi driver and later as an electrician, while Lida, a versatile pianist, played accompaniment at movie theaters for silent movies and at private parties to earn extra income. Hoagy had two younger sisters, Georgia and Joanne.
Around 1922 Carmichael first met Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke, a cornetist and sometime pianist from Iowa. The two became friends and played music together. Around 1923, during a visit to Chicago, Beiderbecke introduced Carmichael to Louis Armstrong, with whom Carmichael would later collaborate, while Armstrong was playing with Chicago-based King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band.
Carmichael composed several hundred songs, including fifty that achieved hit-record status during his long career. In his early days as a songwriter in Indiana (1924–1929), he wrote and performed in the "hot" jazz improvisational style popular with jazz dance bands. While he was living in New York City (1929–1936), he wrote songs that were intended to stand alone, independent of any other production, such as a theatrical performance or a motion picture. Carmichael's songs from this period continued to include jazz influences. During his later years in California (1936–1981), his songs were predominately instrumentals. Nearly four dozen were written expressly for, or were incorporated into, motion pictures.
On October 31, 1927, Carmichael recorded "Star Dust," one of his most famous songs, at the Gennett Records studio in Richmond, Indiana, playing the piano solo himself. Carmichael recruited Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke, along with members of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra that included the Dorsey brothers, to play at the late October recording session with him; it is not known which of the orchestra's musicians were at the October 31 session when "Star Dust" was initially recorded.
After the October 1929 stock market crash, Carmichael's hard-earned savings declined substantially. Fortunately, Louis Armstrong had recorded "Rockin' Chair" at Okeh studios in 1929, giving Carmichael a badly needed financial and career boost. The song became one of Carmichael's jazz standards. Carmichael composed and recorded "Georgia on My Mind" (lyrics by Stuart Gorrell) in 1930. The song became another jazz staple, as well as a pop standard, especially after World War II. Carmichael also arranged and recorded "Up a Lazy River" in 1930, a tune by Sidney Arodin. Although Carmichael and the band he assembled had first recorded "Stardust" as an instrumental in 1927, Bing Crosby recorded the tune with Mitchell Parish's lyrics in 1931.
The growing Carmichael family, which included Hoagy, Ruth, and their sons, Hoagy Bix (born in 1938) and Randy Bob (born in 1940), moved into the former mansion of chewing-gum heir William P. Wrigley, Jr. in Los Angeles in 1942, when the United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Carmichael is considered to be among the most successful of the Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1930s, and was among the first singer-songwriters in the age of mass media to exploit new communication technologies, such as television and the use of electronic microphones and sound recordings. American composer and author Alec Wilder described Carmichael as the "most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented of all the great craftsmen" of pop songs in the first half of the 20th century. Carmichael was an industry trailblazer, who recorded varied interpretations of his own songs and provided material for many other musicians to interpret. His creative work includes several hundred compositions, some of them enduring classics, as well as numerous sound recordings and appearances on radio and television and in motion pictures.