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Up a Lazy River with Hoagy Carmichael

Howard Hoagland “Hoagy” Carmichael was born at the tail end of the 19th century—November 22, 1899—and wrote some of the most important songs of the next one. The long list includes “Am I Blue?” “Stardust,” “Up a Lazy River,” “Rockin’ Chair” and “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.” The latter was used in the film “Here Comes the Groom” and won Carmichael an Academy Award.

The writer was a charismatic pianist/singer as well. He was white, but got much of his musical schooling in Bucktown, an African-American neighborhood near his childhood home in Bloomington, Indiana.

Carmichael attended Indiana University and received both undergraduate and law degrees. He also started a jazz band. One of the musicians he hired was Bix Beiderbecke, a cornetist and one of the most important figures in the history of jazz.

Carmichael’s career hit high gear in the later years of the Roaring Twenties. In 1927, he wrote “Stardust,” which originally was “Star Dust.” Mitchell Parish added the lyric two years later.

The bios detail the successes that Carmichael had in the ensuing years. The names that come up show that he was a player, both literally and figuratively. He played, wrote with or was recorded by the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Mercer, Benny Goodman, Joe Venuti, Johnny Mercer, Ray Charles and Bud Freeman.

Carmichael, who died in 1981, seems to have had a particularly strong relationship with the ill-fated Beiderbecke, who introduced him to Louis Armstrong. Carmichael’s first child was named Hoagy Bix.

Carmichael died in 1981. There is not a lot of good video of Carmichael. Luckily, he appeared in the movie “To Have and Have Not,” with Humphrey Bogart and the gorgeous Lauren Becall. Two two songs here — “Hong Kong Blues” and “Am I Blue?” — are from the film.

Bio.com and Wikipedia were used to write this profile.

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.