Hoagy Carmichael was a pioneering musician, composer, songwriter, actor and lawyer who became one of Tin Pan Alleys’ most successful songwriters of the 1930s. Later in his career he was amongst the first singer-songwriters to utilize new technologies like television and electronic microphones.
Hoagland Howard “Hoagy” Carmichael was born in Bloomington, Indiana and his parents named their first child after a circus troupe. The ‘Hoaglands’ had stayed at the Carmichael house when Hoagys mother was pregnant. Mostly trained by his mother, Hoagy began singing and playing piano at an early age.
Through coronetist Bix Biederbecke, Carmichael was introduced to Louis Armstrong with whom he collaborated on early works. After graduation from college, Carmichael moved to Florida to work as a lawyer, but returned after failing the bar exam.He did pass the Indiana bar exam, but by then his interest was in music and not law.
Hoagy Carmichael wrote and recorded hundreds of songs over his career spanning seven decades. First in the hot jazz style popular in the late twenties, then jazz influenced standards during his New York years then mostly instrumentals, often composed for soundtracks during his California years.
He survived the Great Depression on income from songs written for Louis Armstrong, then the hugely successful Georgia on My Mind written in 1930. Hired by Ralph Peer, he moved to New York and was amongst the first group of songwriters to occupy the new Brill building. During his time in New York he launched a performing career to complement his songwriting.
With more than 50 hit songs to his credit, Carmichael made a good living in his later years from royalties. He was not satisfied when on his 80th birthday he said “I’m a bit disappointed in myself. I know I could have accomplished a hell of a lot more… I could write anything any time I wanted to. But I let other things get in the way…. I’ve been floating around in the breeze.” Carmichael died from a heart attack at age 82.