Although active in early white jazz, Hoagy (Hoagland Howard) Carmichael is remembered mainly as a singer/pianist/composer responsible for a handful of enduring ballads that quickly became standards. In his youth he played piano mainly for relaxation and intended to become a lawyer; he graduated from the Indiana University Law School, in fact. Even so, he'd been playing informally at dances since high school, and had been exposed to jazz by Reginald DuValle in Indianapolis. In 1924, though, he became friendly with Bix Beiderbecke, and there soon followed the first important recording of one of his compositions, "Riverboat Shuffle." Whatever talent he may or may not have had for law, it quickly became apparent that Carmichael had a natural gift for melody. He began making his own piano recordings in 1925, working at times with Paul Whiteman. The year 1927 saw the first recording of the song that would become most closely associated with Carmichael, "Stardust," although this initial rendition was fairly fast and raggy, not at all the work of bittersweet nostalgia it would become in Carmichael's own 1933 recording.
He moved to New York in 1929 to work as a songwriter, and was associated with the likes of Louis Armstrong, the Dorsey brothers, and Red Norvo. Carmichael began producing what would eventually be recognized as jazz standards, including such songs as "The Nearness of You" and "Skylark." Between 1937 and 1954 he also appeared in some 14 films, including To Have and Have Not and Young Man with a Horn, most often as an amiable pianist/singer. Aside from his film work, Carmichael toiled extensively on radio and then television in the 1940s and 1950s. During his three prime decades, he produced such songs — usually made famous by other singers — as "Georgia on My Mind," "Heart and Soul," and "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," for which he received an Academy Award in 1951.