Maxwell Hall, Indiana University
A College Education
Hoagy attended Indiana University from 1920-1926. His mother and grandmother encouraged him to study law as a more practical and reliable career than music. Hoagy obliged, but as a student at IU he put most of his time and energy into playing at dances, movie theatres, and other venues with his band Carmichael’s Collegians. Encouraged by the virtuoso cornetist Bix Beiderbeck, who first visited Bloomington in spring 1924 and became a close friend and important influence, Hoagy began to compose tunes. In May 1925, he and others recorded two of his songs, ”Washboard Blues” and “Boneyard Shuffle,” at the Gennett studio in Richmond, Indiana. Still, Hoagy kept to his legal studies, and after graduation in June 1926 he headed to Florida to practice law.
He found a job in the collections department of a Palm Beach law office, though he continued to play music gigs, including a ten-day cruise to Nassau and Havana, where he was excited by the rhumba music he heard there. When he failed the Florida bar exam he also lost his job, and 1927 found him back in Bloomington, once again living at his old fraternity house (Kappa Sigma), playing music and booking bands.
He gave the law one more shot when he joined the firm of Bingham, Mendenhall & Bingham in Indianapolis, and he passed the Indiana bar exam in November 1927. By early 1929, however, he and the firm agreed that his destiny was not as a lawyer, and he was let go. Hoagy spent a few months in Los Angeles. Then in August of 1929 he traveled to New York City with the renowned Paul Whiteman orchestra (whose members included the crooner Bing Crosby). It was here in New York City over the next few years that Hoagy’s career as a composer and performer began to take off. He loved his student days at IU, but his musical extra-curricular activities, rather than his formal studies, were what prepared him for his life’s work.