American songwriter Hoagy Carmichael was born on November 22, 1899, in Bloomington, Indiana. He wrote "Rockin' Chair," "Lazy River," "Georgia on my Mind" and "Stardust"—one of the most recorded songs of all time. His "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" won an Academy Award for best song in 1952. At age 82, Carmichael died on December 27, 1981, in Rancho Mirage, California.
Hoagland Howard Carmichael, better known as Hoagy Carmichael, was born on November 22, 1899, in Bloomington, Indiana. He was raised in humble circumstances, supported by an electrician father, and by the income his mother earned from playing the piano at silent movie showings and local dances. Growing up, Carmichael was exposed to music not only through his mother, but by listening to jazz artists in the African-American neighborhood of Bucktown.
A move to Indianapolis in 1916 led Carmichael to an African-American pianist named Reginald DuValle, who became a mentor and an instructor in jazz. Carmichael worked to develop his own jazz skills, leading a jazz group while at Indiana University. During his time in college, he also hired a band that featured cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who became a good friend.
Carmichael wrote his first song for Beiderbecke; originally called "Free Wheeling," it was recorded as "Riverboat Shuffle." Carmichael turned away from music to enroll in Indiana University's law school, graduating in 1926. However, upon hearing a recording of another of his songs, "Washboard Blues," Carmichael gave up on practicing law to pursue a career in music.
By 1929, Carmichael was writing songs in New York City. That same year, Mitchell Parrish penned lyrics for a song that Carmichael had composed earlier, "Stardust," which became a hit in 1930. Today the song has been recorded more than 1,500 times—including by Louis Armstrong in 1931—and is a beloved standard.
Other well-known numbers that Carmichael worked on early in his career include "Rockin' Chair," "Georgia on My Mind," "Up the Lazy River" and "Lazybones." On "Lazybones," he worked with lyricist Johnny Mercer, who would become a friend and frequent collaborator. In addition to having other musicians interpret his songs, Carmichael also performed his own popular versions.
In 1936, Carmichael moved to California. The songs he wrote for various films include "Heart and Soul," "The Nearness of You" and "Two Sleepy People." In 1952, he and Mercer won an Academy Award for their song "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," from the movie Here Comes the Groom, starring Bing Crosby. Carmichael also made onscreen appearances in films such as To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
As the 1950s progressed, Carmichael continued to write and perform, but did not reach the same level of songwriting success. Having written one autobiography earlier in his career, The Stardust Road (1946), he updated his memoirs with Sometimes I Wonder (1965). Carmichael took a break from adult songs to publish a collection of children's tunes, Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop (1971).
Carmichael was selected to join the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971. Divorced from his first wife—Ruth Meinardi, with whom he had two children—in 1955, he married Wanda McKay in 1977. His many popular songs gave him a steady income, so Carmichael was able to relax and play golf as he grew older. He passed away at the age of 82 on December 27, 1981, in Rancho Mirage, California.
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