Ralph Carmichael, a prolific composer and arranger of film and TV scores whose writing or arranging credits include I Love Lucy, Bonanza, My Mother the Car, the sci-fi classic The Blob and some of the most beloved and enduring Christmas recordings ever made, died Monday in Camarillo, Calif. He was 94.
His death was announced by family spokesperson Jim Pedersen. A cause was not specified.
A pioneering figure in contemporary Christian music, Carmichael began a long career in television and film in the early 1950s when he headed the music department of his alma mater, the Southern California Bible College, and his school band was featured on the local Los Angeles TV program Campus Christian Hour. The show won an Emmy Award in 1951.
Around the same time, he began writing incidental music charts for I Love Lucy, a role he’d also fill on December Bride, Bonanza and The Frankie Lane Show, among others. By the early 1960s, Carmichael became music director for such programs as The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Show and specials for Bing Crosby, Barbara McNair & Count Basie, Julie London, Oral Roberts and Anita Bryant.
Carmichael also served as a film and tv composer beginning in the 1950s, his most memorable score from the era being 1958’s The Blob starring Steve McQueen. With its jazzy, lounge-music style and early rock & roll saxophone, the score opened with an unlikely tongue-in-cheek theme song that set the mood for what was to come: “Beware of The Blob,” the boppy vocals went. “It creeps/And leaps and glides and slides/Across the floor/Right through the door/And all around the wall/A splotch, a blotch/Be careful of The Blob!”
Seven years later, Carmichael would once again find cult-classic status by composing the themes for two 1965 comedy series that would land on many what-were-they-thinking lists: The Burl Ives sitcom O.K. Crackerby! and the oddball, much-derided My Mother The Car. For the latter, Carmichael composed the rollicking title tune, with its establishing lyrics: “Well you all may think my story/Is more fiction than it’s fact/But believe it or not my mother dear decided she’d come back/As a car…”
But Carmichael’s most-heard contribution to American popular music is of a decidedly less campy nature: As the arranger and conductor of Nat King Cole’s 1960 album The Magic of Christmas, his work has become a staple holiday soundtrack. The album was repackaged in 1962 to include Cole’s recording of “The Christmas Song,” with its familiar opening line “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” and an arrangement by Carmichael that is generally regarded as definitive.
Carmichael’s longtime collaboration with Cole would produce nine full studio projects, including the great singer’s final sessions in 1964 for the album L-O-V-E, recorded just weeks prior to Cole’s death on February 15, 1965. In all, Carmichael’s collaborations with Cole outnumber any other single arranger.
Other musicians and singers for whom Carmichael wrote and conducted arrangements include Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby (including another holiday standard “Do You Hear What I Hear?”), Stan Kenton, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Jack Jones. He was a primary arranger/conductor for pianist Roger Williams on 20 albums including the hit Born Free in 1966.
In 1970, Carmichael composed the score for the faith-based film The Cross and the Switchblade, starring Pat Boone and a young Erik Estrada.
Often known as the “Father of Contemporary Christian Music,” Carmichael founded his own record and publishing companies in 1968 to promote Christian artists such as Andrae Crouch, the Continental Singers, Cliff Richard and Carmichael’s studio group The Young People. He served for several years as president of the Gospel Music Association, and for many more wrote film music for the Billy Graham organization.
Credited with writing more than 300 gospel songs – including such contemporary standards as “The Savior Is Waiting,” “There Is A Quiet Place,” “Reach Out to Jesus,” and “He’s Everything to Me” – Carmichael was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2001. He received the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award in 1994 for his CD Strike Up the Band, and toured for more than two decades with his own big band.
Carmichael’s autobiography He’s Everything to Me was published in 1986.
He is survived by wife Marvella; children Andrea, Greg, and Erin; as well as grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. His daughter Carol Carmichael Parks predeceased him. A memorial service is being planned.
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