Hoagy Carmichael is America's first celebrity singer-songwriter. In an era when most singers performed songs composed by someone else, Hoagy composed his own. Hoagy's black and white image slouching over a piano keyboard with a fedora pushed to the back of his head and a cigarette drooping from his mouth flashes at us through time from movie sets and television studios. Carmichael composed some of America's longest-lasting popular songs, "Skylark," "How Little We Know," "In the Cool, Cool Cool of the Evening," "Georgia on My Mind," and arguably the most-recorded song in history, "Star Dust."
Hoagland Howard Carmichael was born in 1899 in Bloomington, Indiana. He began his career as a jazz piano player while studying law at Indiana University in Bloomington. Booking bands for college dances, Hoagy met and became life-long friends with Jazz Age cornet giant Bix Beiderbecke, who was an up and comer at the time of their first meeting.
Hoagy said the first time he heard Bix play it was like nothing he'd ever heard before. Hoagy said, "It threw my judgment out of kilter." When Hoagy played an improvised tune for Bix, the strange young man with the magical horn said, "Why don't you write music, Hoagy?" He would spend the rest of his life answering Bix's question, writing song after song.
A series of Decca recordings in the 40s launched Hoagy as a singer-songwriter, and his celebrity was enhanced by his movie roles, playing himself, most memorably in To Have and Have Not, Young Man With a Horn, and The Best Years of Our Lives. In 1946 Hoagy's songs held three of the top four spots on Hit Parade, and in 1951 Hoagy won an Oscar for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening." Hoagy described his surprise the first time he heard a recording of his song "Star Dust," He said, "And then it happened—that queer sensation that this melody was bigger than me. Maybe I hadn't written it at all. The recollection of how, when and where it all happened became vague as the lingering strains hung in the rafters of the studio. I wanted to shout back at it, 'maybe I didn't write you, but I found you.'"
In 1971, Hoagy Carmichael was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame as one of the ten initial inductees. He died in 1981.
This tribute to Hoagy Carmichael on the 100th anniversary of his birth was recorded at the 9th Annual Filoli Jazz Concert series in Woodside, CA. Featured here are our good friends and frequent Riverwalk guests: Pianist Dick Hyman, best known for his work as music director for many Woody Allen films such as Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Broadway Danny Rose, Star Dust Memories, Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days, Bullets Over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite, and Sweet and Lowdown. Vocalist Stephanie Nakasian is best known for her work with the Grammy-nominated group Jon Hendricks and Company. Currently Nakasian is performing with pianist Hod O'Brien. Among others, she has recorded with Pepper Adams, Tom Harrell, Ray Drummond and Kenny Washington. Stephanie is currently an instructor in jazz singing at the University of Virginia.
Photo credit for home page teaser image: Hoagy Carmichael. Photo courtesy 8notes.com.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2001