Height of Hoagy Carmichael
The height of Hoagy Carmichael is …m.
1. Where did Hoagy Carmichael come from ?
Carmichael composed several hundred songs, including 50 that achieved hit record status. The large public knows Hoagy Carmichael 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-acted as a musician riding a mule. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening”, with lyrics by Mercer, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1951. Carmichael also appeared as a character actor and musical performer in 14 movies, hosted three musical-variety radio programs, performed on television, and wrote two autobiographies.
2. What could we know about Hoagy Carmichael besides his height ?
Born in Bloomington, Indiana, on November 22, 1899, Hoagland Howard “Hoagy” Carmichael was the first child and only son of Howard Clyde and Lida Mary (Robison) Carmichael. His parents named him after a circus troupe which name is the “Hoaglands” that had stayed at the Carmichael house during his mother’s pregnancy. Howard Carmichael worked as a horse-drawn taxi driver and later as an electrician, while Lida Carmichael, 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. Because of Howard’s unstable job history, the family moved frequently. Hoagy spent most of his early years in Bloomington and in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1910, the Carmichaels were living in Missoula, Montana.
3. What are the projects of Hoagy Carmichael ?
Carmichael’s mother taught him to sing and play the piano at an early age. With the exception of some piano lessons in Indianapolis with Reginald DuValle, a bandleader and pianist known as “the elder statesman of Indiana jazz” and billed as “the Rhythm King”, Carmichael had no other musical training.
4. Somme collaborations with Hoagy Carmichael ?
The family moved to Indianapolis in 1916, but Carmichael returned to Bloomington in 1919 to complete high school. For musical inspiration Carmichael would listen to ragtime pianists Hank Wells and Hube Hanna. At 18, Carmichael helped supplement his family’s meager income by working manual jobs in construction, at a bicycle-chain factory, and in a slaughterhouse. The bleak time was partly relieved by piano duets with his mother and by his friendship with DuValle, who taught him piano-jazz improvisation. Carmichael earned his first money ($5) as a musician playing at a fraternity dance in 1918, marking the beginning of his musical career.
The death of Carmichael’s three-year-old sister in 1918 affected him deeply. He later wrote “My sister Joanne—the victim of poverty. We couldn’t afford a good doctor or good attention, and that’s when I vowed I would never be broke again in my lifetime.” Joanne may have died of influenza, which swept the world that year.
Carmichael attended Indiana University in Bloomington, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1925 and a law degree in 1926. He was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, and played the piano around Indiana and Ohio with his band, Carmichael’s Collegians.
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. Armstrong would continue to influence Carmichael’s compositions; Carmichael reflected in a letter to his wife in the early 1930s that he was going to see Armstrong to learn about the “purty notes”. Under Beiderbecke’s influence Carmichael began playing the cornet, but found his lips unsuited to the mouthpiece, and soon quit. He was also inspired by Beiderbecke’s impressionistic and classical music ideas. Carmichael’s first recorded song, initially titled “Free Wheeling”, was written for Beiderbecke, whose band, The Wolverines, recorded it as “Riverboat Shuffle” in 1924 for Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana. The song became a jazz staple. (Mitchell Parish’s lyrics were added in 1939.) Carmichael’s other early musical compositions included “Washboard Blues” and “Boneyard Shuffle”, which Curtis Hitch and his band, Hitch’s Happy Harmonists, recorded at the Gennett studios. The band’s instrumental rendition of “Washboard Blues”, recorded on May 19, 1925, was the earliest recording in which Carmichael performed his own songs, including an improvised piano solo.
After graduating from IU’s law school in 1926, Carmichael moved to Florida, where he worked as a law clerk in a West Palm Beach legal firm, but he returned to Indiana in 1927 after failing the Florida bar exam. He joined an Indianapolis law firm (Bingham, Mendenhall and Bingham) and passed the Indiana bar, but devoted most of his energies to music. Carmichael had discovered his method of songwriting, which he described later: “You don’t write melodies, you find them…If you find the beginning of a good song, and if your fingers do not stray, the melody should come out of hiding in a short time.”
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.
Carmichael made hundreds of recordings between 1925 and his death in 1981. He also appeared on radio and television and in motion pictures and live performances, where he demonstrated his versatility. Because Carmichael lacked the vocal strength to sing without amplification on stage, as well as the unusual tone of his voice, which he described as “flatsy through the nose”, he took advantage of new technologies, especially the electrical microphone, sound amplification, and advances in recording. As a singer-pianist, Carmichael was adept at selling his songs to lyricists, music publishers, movie producers, and promoting them to the public via microphones on stage and in mass media.
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. New York’s Mills Music published the song as an upbeat piano solo in January 1929 and renamed it “Stardust.” (Mills Music republished the song with the addition of Mitchell Parish’s lyrics in May 1929.) “Stardust” attracted little attention until 1930, when Isham Jones and his orchestra recorded it as a sentimental ballad with a slower tempo, the re-timing often credited to the band’s arranger, Victor Young. It became a hit song, the first of many for Carmichael. Its idiosyncratic melody in medium tempo–a song about a song–later became an American standard, recorded by hundreds of artists, including Artie Shaw, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, and Wynton Marsalis.
Carmichael received more recognition after Paul Whiteman and his orchestra recorded “Washboard Blues” on Victor Records in Chicago in November 1927, with Carmichael singing and playing the piano. Carmichael’s “March of the Hoodlums” and Sheldon Brooks’s “Walkin’ the Dog” were produced from Carmichael’s last recording session at the Gennett Records studio on May 2, 1928, with a band he had hand-selected.
In 1929, after realizing that he preferred making music and had no aptitude for or interest in becoming a lawyer (he was fired from his job at the law firm), Carmichael moved to New York City, where he worked for a brokerage firm during the weekdays and spent his evenings composing music, including some songs for Hollywood musicals. In New York, Carmichael met Duke Ellington’s agent and sheet music publisher, Irving Mills, and hired him to set up recording dates. Carmichael’s first major song with his own lyrics was “Rockin’ Chair,” recorded by Louis Armstrong and Mildred Bailey, and eventually with his own hand-picked studio band (featuring Beiderbecke, Bubber Miley, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Bud Freeman, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, and Gene Krupa) on May 21, 1930.
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.
Carmichael joined ASCAP in 1931. The following year he began working as a songwriter for Ralph Peer’s Southern Music Company, the first music firm to occupy the new Brill Building, which became a famous New York songwriting mecca. The Great Depression rapidly put an end to the jazz scene of the Roaring Twenties. People were no longer attending clubs or buying music, forcing many musicians out of work. Carmichael was fortunate to retain his low-paying but stable job as a songwriter with Southern Music. Beiderbecke’s early death in 1931 also darkened Carmichael’s mood. Of that time, he wrote later: “I was tiring of jazz and I could see that other musicians were tiring as well. The boys were losing their enthusiasm for the hot stuff…. No more hot licks, no more thrills.”
Carmichael’s eulogy for “hot” jazz, however, was premature. Big-band swing was just around the corner, and jazz soon turned in another direction with new bandleaders, such as the Dorseys and Benny Goodman, and new singers, such as Bing Crosby, leading the way. Carmichael’s output followed the changing trend. In 1933 he began a long-lasting collaboration with lyricist Johnny Mercer, newly arrived in New York, on “Lazybones”, which became a hit. Southern Music published the sheet music in 1933; more than 350,000 copies were sold in three months. Carmichael collaborated with Mercer on nearly three dozen songs, including “Thanksgiving,” “Moon Country,” and the 1951 Academy Award-winner for best song, “In the Cool, Cool, Cool, of the Evening.”
Carmichael also began to emerge as a solo singer-performer, first at parties, then professionally. He described his unique, laconic voice as sounding “the way a shaggy dog looks.… I have Wabash fog and sycamore twigs in my throat.” Some fans were dismayed as he steadily veered away from “hot” jazz, but Armstrong’s recordings continued to “jazz up” Carmichael’s popular songs. In 1935 Carmichael left Southern Music Company and began composing songs for a division of Warner Brothers, establishing his connection with Hollywood. “Moonburn,” the first song Carmichael wrote for a motion picture, was sung by Bing Crosby in the Warner Brothers movie Anything Goes in 1936.
Following his marriage to Ruth Mary Meinardi, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, on March 14, 1936, the couple moved to California, where Carmichael hoped to find more work in the movie industry. In 1937, the year before the birth of the couple’s first son, Hoaglund Jr. (Hoagy Bix), Carmichael accepted a contract with Paramount Pictures for $1,000 a week, joining other songwriters working for the Hollywood studios, including Harry Warren at Warner Brothers, E. Y. Harburg at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin at Paramount.
Carmichael found work as a character actor in Hollywood. His on-screen start occurred in 1937 in Topper, with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. Carmichael portrayed a piano player and performed his song “Old Man Moon” in the movie. The effort led to other character actor acts in the 1940s.
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