VIP Hoagy Carmichael

Hoagy Carmichael (November 22, 1899 - December 27, 1981)

The brilliant and beloved composer of "Stardust," "Georgia on My Mind," "Skylark" and countless other classics, Hoagy Carmichael was a midwestern boy so square he once challenged Humphrey Bogart to a fistfight for his leftist views. In his autobiography The Stardust Road, Carmichael writes of the times before marijuana [aka "muggles"] was illegal:

It's the summer of 1923. We took two quarts of bathtub gin, a package of muggles, and headed for the black-and-tan joint where King Oliver's band was playing.

The King featured two trumpets, piano, a bass fiddle, and a clarinet. As I sat down to light my first muggle...taking the first chorus was that second trumpet, Louis Armstrong. Louis was taking it fast.

"Why," I moaned,"why isn't everybody in the world here to hear that?" I meant it. Something as unutterably stirring as that deserved to be heard by the world.

Then the muggles took effect and my body got light. Every note Louis hit was perfection. I ran to the piano and took the place of Louis's wife. They swung into Royal Garden Blues. I had never heard the tune before, but somehow I knew every note. I couldn't miss. I was floating in a strange deep-blue whirlpool of jazz.

In the film Young Man With a Horn (1950), Carmichael played a character named "Smoke" who incongruously jokes about picking up "the potato salad" before going out for the night. ("Salad" was once a slang term for marijuana.) As "Cricket," the piano player in the 1943 film To Have and Have Not (pictured), Carmichael contributed the elegant and soulful "Hong Kong Blues," about an opium smoker gone wrong "when he kicked old Buddha's gong." (Hong Kong was taken from China by Britain as part of its spoils in the Opium Wars.) The song was recorded by George Harrison in 1981.

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