If Cole Porter and George Gershwin penned the soundtrack of the city, then Hoagy Carmichael was the voice of America's heartland. 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.
Born Hoagland Howard Carmichael in Bloomington, Indiana, he grew up in very modest circumstances. His mother played piano for dances at local fraternity parties and at "silent" movies. Hoagy would tag along. Like a sponge, he absorbed music from his mother, from the visiting circuses, and from the black families and churches in his neighborhood. Ragtime was in the air, and his mother mastered the “Maple Leaf Rag” and other popular tunes of the day.
In 1916, his family moved to Indianapolis. There, Hoagland came under the influence of an African-American pianist named Reginald DuValle, who gave him a great piece of advice: "Never play anything that ain't right," he admonished the young pianist. "You may not make a lot of money, but you'll never get hostile with yourself." DuValle gave Carmichael pointers about playing hot ragtime and the emerging style of jazz. Carmichael sought out cheap pianos in restaurants, night spots, and brothels where he was allowed to sit in.
Back in Bloomington in 1919, Carmichael booked the Louisville-based band of Louie Jordan (not the later jump- blues singer), and this experience spurred Carmichael into becoming a self-described "jazz maniac." He also listened to records avidly. He made a trip to Chicago, where he heard Louis Armstrong-a musician who would influence him (and with whom he would record later).
After completing high school, Carmichael entered Indiana University. He reveled in a growing passion for jazz, and started his own group, Carmichael's Collegians, which developed a reputation not only on campus, but in the region, as they traveled through Indiana and Ohio to entertain young dancers.
In the spring of 1924, Bix Beiderbecke, a young cornetist out of Davenport, Iowa, came to Indiana University. Carmichael booked him to play a series of ten fraternity dances, and the two became fast friends. It was for Beiderbecke that Carmichael wrote his first piece, titling it “Free Wheeling.” Beiderbecke took it with him to Richmond, Indiana, home of the early record company, Gennett Records, and waxed it with his seven-piece band, The Wolverines. It was now retitled “Riverboat Shuffle.”
Carmichael himself got a chance to record at Gennett studios, in 1927. One of the numbers he recorded on Halloween, 1927, was an up-tempo wordless original called “Star Dust.” Meanwhile, Carmichael managed to secure his Bachelor's degree in 1925 and a law degree in 1926, both at Indiana University. After completing his law degree he briefly hung out a shingle in West Palm Beach, Florida, but after happening on a recording of his song “Washboard Blues,” he gave up law for good in favor of music.