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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Hoagy Carmichael (1899 – 1981): “Stardust,” but no closer to heaven, #1

His hits:

Hoagy Carmichael was the greatest singer-songwriter in the 20th century. He paved the way for the likes of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. Alex Wilder, the dean of the American Songbook, calling Carmichael a “great craftsman,” wrote that he was the “most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented” popular composer in the first half of the 20th century. In his 25 year musical career Carmichael conquered Hollywood, radio, television, popular music and memorial writing. Only Broadway success eluded him. Beatle John Lennon said that Hoagy Carmichael was his favorite songwriter. William Zinsser, in his wonderful book, Easy to Remember, wrote, “Among the great songwriters, Carmichael was the great exception – not a city boy who wrote scores from Broadway and Hollywood, but a country boy who wrote individual ballads that became huge hits on their own. Magical words: ‘moonlight,’ ‘Wabash,’ ‘sycamore,’ ‘‘possum,’ ‘oleander,’ ‘rhubarb,’ ‘veranda,’ ‘buttermilk,’ ‘old mill,’ ‘watermelon.’ They reach us not only through the eye, ear and nose but through two even more powerful transmitters: memory and yearning for the simplicities of yesterday. Carmichael’s melodies tug on the same nostalgia. They are wanderers, itinerant as a hobo, in no hurry to arrive. There’s no big-city tension in them.”

*He wrote “Stardust,” one of the half dozen greatest American popular songs when he was 28. It was reproduced on both sides of the same disc – one side by Tommy Dorsey and the other side by Benny Goodman! (1927)

*From l929 to 1934, Carmichael made 36 recordings for America’s leading record label (Victor).

*Judy Garland took her name from a song lyric he wrote in l934 called “Judy” about a girl “whose voice can bring every hope of the spring, that’s Judy.”

*He wrote the official co-alma mater for the University of Indiana (1937)

*He appeared as an actor in two dozen motion pictures (1937 – l965).

*Guinness Book of Records lists his 1943 song as having the longest title ever published, “I’m a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with my Honolulu Mama Doin’ Those Beat-o, Beat-o Flat-On-My-Seat-o, Hirohito Blues.”

*He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1946 for “Ol’ Buttermilk Sky” (from Canyon Passage).

*In l950 he wrote the song “Heart and Soul” which every young piano player in America plays with a friend.

*He won an Academy Award in l951 for his song, “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (with Johnny Mercer, subject of a future blog, writing the lyrics).

*He was the sartorial model for agent 007 – James Bond. Ian Fleming thought Carmichael looked so good in a dinner jacket that he described James Bond as “very good looking. He reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael” (Casino Royale) (1953).

*He was a regular on the television show Laramie (1959-1963) and appeared in multiple television shows during the 1950s and l960s.

*He was inducted into the 2nd annual Songwriters Hall of Fame in l971.

*He earned a Grammy nomination 7 years after his death (l988).

*In l997 he was one of four American songwriters (along with Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, and Dorothy Fields) commemorated on US postage stamps in the “Legends of American Music” series.

*No less than the Curator of American Music at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, wrote the introduction to his reissued biographies (1999).

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