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Hoagy Carmichael

composer, songwriter, pianist, singer

Hoagy Carmichael

Hoagland Howard Carmichael was born in Bloomington, Indiana, on November 22, 1899, the only son of Howard Clyde and Lida Mary (Robison) Carmichael. (His first name came from a traveling circus called "The Hoaglands" who lived with his parents while his mother was pregnant.) 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, and he was singing and playing piano at age six.

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 soon began working to develop his own jazz skills, and formed his own jazz group. He earned his first money ($5.00) as a musician playing at a fraternity dance in 1918.

After high school Carmichael entered Indiana University, from which he received his Bachelor's Degree in 1925, and his Law Degree in 1926. In between his studies, he played piano in college bands. He also began his songwriting career, with "Washboard Blues," "Boneyard Shuffle," and "Riverboat Shuffle," all of which were recorded by local bands for Gennett Records in 1924. After graduation he moved to Miami, Florida, where he became a law clerk. He gave up law, however, after hearing a recording of "Washboard Blues" by Red Nichols and his Fire Pennies, having not even known the song had been re-recorded. By 1927 he had returned to Indiana, and he recorded his own version of the song with Paul Whiteman that same year. He also recorded what would become his most recorded song ever, "Stardust." In 1929 he moved to New York City, where he became a full-time songwriter. His first major song with his own lyrics was “Rockin’ Chair,” recorded by Louie Armstrong and Mildred Bailey, and eventually with his own hand-picked studio band. Almost all of his subsequent songs, however, would have lyrics provided by collaborators.

Carmichael's songwriting career began really taking off in 1930, when Isham Jones and his Orchestra had a huge hit with "Stardust." He joined ASCAP in 1931, and began working for Ralph Peer's Southern Music Company in 1932. In 1933 he began his collaboration with lyricist Johnny Mercer on “Thanksgiving,” “Moon Country,” and “Lazybones,” the latter of which sold over 350,000 copies in three months. In 1935 he left Southern Music Company and started composing songs for a division of Warner Brothers, establishing his connection with Hollywood. In 1935 he moved to California and accepted a contract with Paramount for $1,000 a week, joining other songwriters working for the Hollywood studios. His first movie song, “Moonburn,” was used in the film version of Anything Goes (1936). Carmichael spent the rest of his life and career in California, composing well over a hundred songs, appearing in 14 movies and numerous television series, recording, and hosting three musical variety radio shows.

Although Carmichael ended his songwriting career in the 1960s because musical tastes were changing, he never completely gave up on music. He died in Rancho Mirage, California, on December 27, 1981, and was interred at Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington.

Partial List of Songs

"Washboard Blues"
"Riverboat Shuffle"
"Two Sleepy People" (1938)
"Huggin' & Chalkin'" (#1 in 1941)
"In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" (Academy Award, 1951, sung by Bing Crosby in Here Comes the Groom)
"Ole Buttermilk Sky"
"Georgia on My Mind"
"Lazy River"
"Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief"
"The Lamplighter's Serenade"

Movie Appearances

Topper (1937)
To Have and Have Not (1944)
Johnny Angel (1945)
Canyon Passage (1946)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Night Song (1947)
Johnny Holiday (1949)
Young Man with a Horn (1950)
The Las Vegas Story (1952)
Belles on Their Toes (1952)
Timberjack (1955)


"Tonight at Hoagy's" (Mutual, 1944)
"Something New" (NBC, 1945-6)
"The Hoagy Carmichal Show" (CBS, October 26, 1946 - June 26, 1948)


"Saturday Night Review" (host, June 1953)
"Laramie" (1959-1963)


The Stardust Road (1946)
Sometimes I Wonder (1965)

Wives and Children

Ruth Meinardi -- March 14, 1937 to 1955 (divorce) -- Hoagy Bix and Randy
Wanda McKay -- May 20, 1977 to his death -- no children

Other Information

In 1937 Carmichael 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.

"Stardust" has to date been recorded over 1,500 times.

"I'm a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with my Honolulu Mama Doing Those Beat-o, Beat-o, Flat on my Seat-o Hirohito Blues" is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest song title, despite Carmichael always saying that the title officially ends with "Yank."

On September 15, 1961, Carmichael recorded "Yabba Dabba Dabbba-Dabba Do" for the Flintstone's episode "Hit Songwriters."

Carmichael was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971.


Biography Channel
The Hoagy Carmichael Collection
Internet Movie Database
The Official Hoagy Carmichael Site

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The Robinson Library >> Composers and Songwriters

This page was last updated on 10/17/2018.