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Georgia on My Mind (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
“In his charming drawl the master himself delivers the definitive version of the song. Half-singing, half-narrating, Carmichael meanders through the song at a lazy swing.”

- Ben Maycock

AKAGeorgia
Rank 44
Music Hoagy Carmichael
Lyrics Stuart Gorrell

By 1930 Hoagy Carmichael had already written more than a dozen songs. His most famous work, “Star Dust” (1929), had been published and recorded but had yet to find success. Working at an investment company in New York, Carmichael was composing in his spare time and wrote “Georgia on My Mind” at the suggestion of friend and saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer, a musician and bandleader sometimes credited as the “grandfather of modern jazz.”

According to Richard Sudhalter in his Carmichael biography, Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael, Trumbauer asked Carmichael, “Why don’t you write a song about Georgia? Nobody ever lost money writing songs about the South.” Carmichael followed the advice, with Stuart Gorrell thinking of the title and helping out with the lyrics.

 

More on Hoagy Carmichael at JazzBiographies.com
 
 

More on Stuart Gorrell at JazzBiographies.com
 

Hoagy Carmichael and His Orchestra recorded the new song on September 15, 1930, in a Victor studio session. His “orchestra” was an all-star lineup of musicians:

Hoagy (vocal); Bix Beiderbecke (cornet), Ray Lodwig (trumpet); Jack Teagarden; Boyce Cullen (trombone); Jimmy Dorsey (clarinet/alto sax); ‘Bud’ Freeman (tenor sax); ‘Pee Wee’ Russell (alto sax); Irving Brodsky (piano); Joe Venuti (violin); Eddie Lang (guitar), Min Leibrook (bass sax), Chauncey Morehouse (drums).

This recording did not turn out to be a hit, but success was just around the corner. In 1931, a pivotal and bittersweet year for Carmichael, “Star Dust” would appear on the pop charts five times, and “Georgia on My Mind” would become a number ten hit. But the good news was mixed with the bad; his college friend Bill Moenkhaus and fellow musician Bix Beiderbecke would both die at the age of twenty-eight.

The first chart appearance of “Georgia on My Mind” was courtesy of Frankie Trumbauer, the man who had suggested the song idea to Carmichael in the first place. The pop chart appearances included:

Ray Charles’ number one rendition in 1960 won the R&B crooner two Grammys for Best Performance by a Pop Single Artist and Best Vocal Performance Single Record or Track, Male. Willie Nelson’s 1979 recording won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male.

 

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954
 

On April 24, 1979, the Joint Resolution of the Georgia General Assembly designated “Georgia on My Mind” as the official state song, citing that it

“... has an enduring quality that has made it one of the best loved songs in America for many years”

“... describes a Georgian’s love for his State, its beautiful melody and lyrics have given the song a worldwide appeal”

“... has been recorded by many outstanding artists, but the rendition by Mr. Ray Charles, a native Georgian, which was first recorded in 1958, has been greatly enjoyed by music lovers throughout the world”

More information on this tune...

Richard M. Sudhalter
Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael
Oxford University Press
Hardcover: 432 pages


(Carmichael’s biographer devotes three pages to the song’s history and a musical analysis.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Music and Lyrics Analysis

An eloquent ballad of longing, “Georgia on My Mind” is written with an introductory verse; the refrain being in the popular 32-bar A-A-B-A form. The A sections begin with “Georgia, Georgia” and, except for the second of these, end describing how “an old sweet song” keeps “Georgia on my mind.” Many discussions of the song comment on the ambiguity of Georgia and whether or not she is a woman or a place. Though the majority of the lines are ambiguous, the bridge, with its lines, “Other arms …” and “Other eyes …” suggest longing for a person. -JW

Musical analysis of “Georgia on My Mind”

Original Key F major (“A”) and D minor (“B”)
Form A1 – A2 – B – A2
Tonality “A” sections are major; “B” section is in relative minor
Movement Primarily skips (3rds) in both directions; occasional leap (6th) downward. “B” makes use of a minor pentatonic scale, ascending in the first, third and fifth measures.

Comments     (assumed background)

The opening harmonic progression is similar to that of “Charleston” and “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You,” except that the III7 resolves to a minor vi instead of the VI7. From there, Carmichael takes off into his own direction. The chord progression implies a descending bass line, which could work very well. In the original key, this becomes: F –A7/E – Dm – Bbm/Db – F/C – E7/B – Bb, after which the progression goes up to C (the V7), returning to F for the first turnaround.

The contrasting “B” section in the relative D minor is fairly stable harmonically, never straying too far from the tonic. The only unusual part of this bridge is in the fourth measure, where a flatted seventh in the melody and a B natural over a G major chord give a temporary impression of Dorian mode. The upward movement from I to II7 in the sixth measure is surprising but not jarring, creating just enough harmonic and melodic tension (at this point, the melody has just ascended a ninth) so the ear is prepared for the circle of fifths that return the piece to the original major key.

K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
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Soundtrack information
“Georgia on My Mind” was included in these films:
  • Taxi! (1932)
  • When You’re Smiling (1950, Frankie Laine)
  • The Big T.N.T. Show (1966, Ray Charles)
  • Four Friends aka Georgia’s Friends (1981)
  • Off Beat (1986, Ray Charles)
  • Meet Wally Sparks (1997, Michael Bolton)
  • Ghost World (2000, Vince Giordano, The Nighthawks)
  • Hanging Up (2000, Steve Tyrell, All-4-One)
  • American Pie 2 (2001)
  • Ray (2004, Ray Charles)
And on television:
  • Designing Women (1986) theme music for CBS sitcom
  • Quantum Leap (1990, Ray Charles) Season 2, Episode 22
  • Sunday night sign-off video montage for Georgia Public Television (2004, Ray Charles)
Reading and Research
Additional information for "Georgia on My Mind" may be found in:

Max Morath
The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards
Perigee Books
Paperback: 235 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: history and performers.)

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages


(1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.)

Richard M. Sudhalter
Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael
Oxford University Press
Hardcover: 432 pages


(3 pages including the following types of information: history and music analysis.)

Robert Gottlieb, Robert Kimball
Reading Lyrics
Pantheon
Hardcover: 736 pages


(Includes the following types of information: song lyrics.)
Free Chord Changes for this Tune
Chord changes and downloadable tracks at PlayJazzNow.com
Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments
Soundtracks
Reading & Research
Free Chord Changes

Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

Paris before World War II was a haven for expatriate American musicians. Freddy Johnson, a singer/entertainer, added an Armstrongesque touch to the Quintette of the Hot Club of France’s 1937 recording of “Georgia...,” along with guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. A year earlier, another ex-pat, trumpeter and vocalist Bill Coleman (who recorded with Reinhardt), performed the tune with a trio, featuring yet again another ex-pat, the excellent pianist Herman Chittison.

In 1931 Coleman Hawkins, soon to be an expatriate to France, England and Holland, recorded a version with a racially mixed band, the Mound City Blue Blowers. Hawkins’ standout solo makes the recording, which also includes a vocal by leader Red McKenzie and his kazoo-like solo on comb-and-tissue paper.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Dicky Wells
Django Reinhardt with His American Friends
DRG 8493

Bill Coleman
Bill Coleman, 1936-1938
Classics 764

Red McKenzie
Sensational Classic Jazz & Blues Re-Issues, Vol. 2: Red McKenzie
Sensation 30

iTunes
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Georgia on My Mind.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

The Ray Charles version of “Georgia On My Mind” (The Genius Hits the Road) is not only the definitive recording of the tune, but is one of the landmark moments in the history of American popular music. Charles sings the tune as if it had been written with him in mind, and his performance casts a large enough shadow that it is now challenging to perform this song without showing some of his influence (not that this is a bad thing).

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Ray Charles
The Genius Hits the Road
1997 Rhino / WEA 72813
Original recording 1960
The direct jazz relevance of this Ray Charles performance is open to debate. However, there is very little debate that this deeply soulful version of “Georgia on My Mind” is the definitive rendition of the song.
iTunes
David "Fathead" Newman
I Remember Brother Ray
2005 High Note 7135

Saxophonist Newman is closely associated with the music of Ray Charles and played on Charles’ original version of “Georgia.” Here, he takes a soulful and subtle turn on the song, paying tribute to his recently-deceased friend and former employer. Also featured prominently on this track are vibraphonist Steve Nelson and pianist John Hicks.
Ray Brown
Something for Lester
1991 Original Jazz Classics 412
Original recording 1977
Brown offers a preview of the soulful trio recordings that would augment his fame in the latter part of his career. His brilliant and prominently featured trio-mates here are pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Elvin Jones. They begin and end slowly, with a deep blues vibe, cranking up the tempo for a lengthy solo section in between.
iTunes
J.J. Johnson/Kai Winding
The Great Kai and J.J
GRP 225
Original recording 1960
The contrasting styles of Johnson and Winding are always fascinating to hear in tandem, and they both shine on this slow, soulful performance. An added bonus is pianist Bill Evans, who displays his underrated blues feeling.
iTunes
Shirley Horn
Light out of Darkness (A Tribute to Ray Charles)
1993 Polygram 19703

Horn, always a master of understatement, gives an arrestingly subtle performance of “Georgia” here. In addition to her usual brilliant vocals and piano, she interjects some tasteful organ.
iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Rebecca Kilgore, Dave Frishberg
Not a Care in the World
Arbors Records

Vocalist Kilgore and pianist Frishberg are joined by guitarist Dan Faehnle for a gently swinging tribute to Georgia.
iTunes
Frank Morgan
City Nights
2004, HighNote

The beauty of this CD, besides the playing of Morgan’s superb quartet, is that the altoist thoroughly investigates three standards--“Georgia on My Mind,” “Cherokee,” and “Summertime”--plus five contemporary compositions by Miles Davis, Monk, and Coltrane. Recorded live at the Jazz Standard.

- Sandra Burlingame

Elmo Hope Quartet
Hope Meets Foster
1991, Orig. Jazz Classics 1703
Original recording, 1955
Frank Foster’s robust tenor saxophone is bewitching on this fast-paced bop reading of the song.
Jimmy Smith
Any Number Can Win
1998, Polygram 557447
Original recording, 1963
Organist Jimmy Smith digs a groove with this bluesy and soulful take on the song. A dreamy choir in the back completes the hip ambience.
iTunes
Bill Charlap
Stardust
2002, Blue Note

Pianist Charlap expresses a real affinity for the material with this heartfelt and lyrical reading of the song. Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums slow the rhythm right down to an introspective crawl.
iTunes

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell

Year Rank Title
1930 44 Georgia on My Mind

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