From William Zinsser's Easy to Remember: "Play me a Hoagy Carmichael song and I hear the banging of a screen door and the whine of an outdoor (outboard?) motor on a lake--familiar sounds of the summer in a small-town America that is long gone but still longed for."
Carmichael's lyricists included Mitchell Parish ("Star Dust"), Frank Loesser ("Small Fry") and Johnny Mercer ("Lazy Bones"). None of these, however, expressed Carmichael's Indiana background better than his own lyric to "Moon Country":"...that possum and 'coon country. That sycamore heaven back South." Of course, Indiana was never in the deep South, but Carmichael easily adapted to that popular song tradition which has been with us since Stephen Foster.
Hoagy Carmichael was far from being the simple country boy; his career as a songwriter, a pianist, singer, and film actor demonstrate otherwise. It must have taken a fair amount of hustling to procure the first recording of "Riverboat Shuffle" on the Indiana label, Gennet, and to convince the same company to let him record "Star Dust", the first of over a thousand recordings of that standard of standards. A couple of years later the mighty Paul Whiteman featured Hoagy playing and singing his "Washboard Blues" on Victor Records. And this was all in the 1920s.
Thereafter, songs such as "Lazy River", Rockin' Chair", and "Skylark" emerged, the latter seeming as though it had been improvised on the cornet by Carmichael's old friend, Bix Beiderbecke. In films,
Carmichael regularly depicted a singing bar room piano player, and in that character presented
"Hong Kong Blues" and "How Little We Know". (Others were doing the same; it was the era of Casablanca when Dooley Wilson famously sang "As Time Goes By" for Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart.)
"In the Cool, Cool. Cool of the Evening" won the Academy Award of 1951, with Johnny Mercer's lyrics about a small-town picnic. The two country boys, as Wiliam Zinsser refers to them, had come far. -- Dick Hyman