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).