Hoagy Carmichael: A Life in Melody
New Biography, CD Celebrate Composer's Prolific Career
Listen to Liane Hansen's interview with Carmichael biographer Richard Sudhalter.
May 1, 2002 -- If Cole Porter and George Gershwin penned the soundtrack of the city, then Hoagy Carmichael was the voice of America's heartland. Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in Carmichael's work and his place in the history of American popular song. A new biography and song collection -- both called Stardust Melody -- are helping to keep his music and memory alive.
His best-known songs are now American standards: "Stardust," "Georgia on My Mind," "Heart and Soul".... Carmichael's career lasted four decades, and he penned hundreds of songs.
Carmichael was born in 1899 in Indiana -- the same year as Duke Ellington. It was also the year pianist Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag made its debut, a seminal moment in American popular music. During the "Roaring Twenties," Carmichael led college dance bands and fell in love with jazz. He earned a law degree from Indiana University, and actually practiced law briefly in Florida, but decided music was his life and headed to New York City.
It wasn't an overnight success story. Carmichael worked as a stockbroker, and paid his dues, playing and writing songs at night and getting to know the stars of the Manhattan jazz scene. Soon his ambition led him to Hollywood, where -- as he put it -- "the rainbow hits the ground for composers."
During the 1940s, Carmichael's career exploded. He had recording contracts, movie roles and a hit radio show. And in 1951, a song he co-wrote with lyricist Johnny Mercer, "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," earned him an Academy Award. Bing Crosby sang it in Here Comes the Groom.
Carmichael's fame faded with the 1950s. Popular music was changing, and beat-heavy rock 'n' roll and rythym and blues songs filled the airwaves. He died in 1981, and was laid to rest in the place he considered home, Indiana.
Listen to the NPR 100 entry for Charmichael's "Stardust"
More great jazz at NPRJazz.org
The exhaustive online archives of the Hoagy Carmichael Collection are curated by his alma mater, Indiana University.
The "official" Hoagy Carmichael Web site tells the story of the composer's life.