Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Howard Hoagland Carmichael, 22 November 1899, Bloomington IN; d 28 December 1981, Palm Springs CA) Singer, pianist, bandleader, perhaps the most quintessentially American songwriter. His mother played piano in a cinema; the family moved to Indianapolis, he went to Indiana U, played piano at dances to help pay for his education; he recorded own song 'Washboard Blues' with Hitch's Happy Harmonists on the Gennett label '23; formed campus band '24, met the Wolverines the same year snd befriended cornet star Bix Beiderbecke. He graduated '26 and practised law. Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra (with Bix) recorded his 'Riverboat Shuffle'; Red Nichols, Paul Whiteman recorded 'Washboard'; Carmichael turned to music asnd formed a band, early sides by Carmichael's Collegians rejected by a record company '26, but Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals (with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey) made Gennett sides released '27. He flourished on records as a bandleader late '20s, early '30s, all-star sides on Victor including Bix, the Dorseys, Bud Freeman, Eddie Lang, Bubber Miley, Joe Venuti, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, etc.

And the songs: for most of the 20th century the most-recorded song (after 'Silent Night') was Carmichael's 'Stardust' (originally two words: 'Star Dust'), the introduction to which may have been suggested by a phrase played by Bix. But Ernie Caceres said he heard Sidney Arodin using a similar figure before 'Star Dust' (Arodin later collaborated with Carmichael on 'Lazy River'),  while pianist and scholar Mike Lipskin points out that the beginning eight notes are an often-used descending phrase with thirds and a fourth interval, also the beginning of Fats Waller's 'Jitterbug Waltz' and compositions by Debussy. An up-tempo version of 'Star Dust' '28 by the Chocolate Dandies has a fine guitar solo by Lonnie Johnson, but the song became more famous in slower versions by Isham Jones and Louis Armstrong (in '31, the year of publication with lyrics by Mitchell Parrish). Syrupy versions by Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller (both '40) began the practice of playing it without the lovely introduction; musicians of course played the intro (like Howard McGhee on the '45 recording by Coleman Hawkins), but those records were not widely heard, and it was a revelation when Nat Cole revived the intro '57. (Frank Sinatra later made a recording of 'Stardust' using only the intro, which peeved Carmichael: 'I wrote a whole song,' he moaned, but he had no doubt been happy with the royalties on the Shaw and Miller versions without the intro.)

Other songs included 'Rockin' Chair' ('30, own lyrics; highlight of famous Town Hall concert '47, sung by Armstrong and Teagarden); 'Georgia On My Mind' ('31, lyrics by Stuart Gorrell; no. 1 hit for Ray Charles, '60); '(Up A) Lazy River' ('31, with Arodin, a no. 14 hit '61 for Bobby Darin), 'Lazybones' ('33, with Johnny Mercer); 'One Morning In May' ('33, Parrish), 'Two Sleepy People' ('38, with Frank Loesser for film Thanks For The Memory); 'The Nearness Of You' ('40, Ned Washington); 'Skylark' ('42, Mercer) 'Lamplighter's Serenade' ('42, Paul Francis Webster); 'How Little We Know' ('44, with Mercer, for film To Have And Have Not); 'Memphis In June' ('45, own lyrics, film Johnny Angel); 'In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening' ('51, lyrics by Mercer, film Here Comes The Groom, song won Oscar); also 'New Orleans' (own lyrics), many more. 'Heart And Soul' '38 (with Loesser) is such a hypnotically simple tune that kids have been banging it out on the piano ever since without knowing where it came from.

Carmichael wrote songs for the Broadway show The Show Is On '37, then his own show with Mercer Walk With Music '40; it ran only 55 performances. He appeared in films, usually playing himself, a laconic pianist with a slightly gritty voice: To Have Or Have Not '44, Canyon Passage and The Best Years Of Our Lives '46, Young Man With A Horn '50 (from a Dorothy Baker novel perhaps inspired by, but not based on, the life of Bix). He contributed songs to films The Stork Club '46, Ivy '47, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes '53, Hatari '62. He had a part in TV series Laramie '59-62; TV special with Svend Asmussen '68; on Henry Mancini TV show with Bing Crosby '71; also straight TV acting role opposite Peggy Lee. Own top ten hits: 'Ole Buttermilk Sky', 'Huggin' And Chalkin' ' (both no. 2 '46); 'Old Piano Roll Blues' (no. 15 '50, with Cass Daley; song by Cy Loben). Other albums included 1944-5 V-Disc sessions, mostly a solo studio date from August '45; Hoagy Sings Carmichael, with Art Pepper, Harry Edison, arrangements by Johnny Mandel, has been in and out of print. Many tribute albums include Georgie Fame/Annie Ross LP In Hoagland '81, massive compilation Classic Hoagy Carmichael '88 from Smithsonian/Indiana Historical Society (from BBC in UK) had 57 tracks, six versions of 'Stardust'. An autobiography was Sometimes I Wonder ('65, with Stephen Longstreet); Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael by Richard M. Sudhalter (2002) was, surprisingly, the first proper biography, and a good one.