Final Note: Ralph Carmichael

Former Life Member. Composer/Orchestrator
5/27/1927 – 10/18/2021

Ralph Carmichael, prolific composer, Emmy Award winning arranger/conductor for Nat King Cole, Jack Jones, Ella Fitzgerald and Roger Williams, composer of “The Blob” movie score and considered to be the Father of Contemporary Christian Music, died October 18, 2021, in Camarillo, Calif. He was 94.  

Carmichael was born May 27, 1927, in Quincy, Ill. to Rev. Richard and Adelle Carmichael. Pursuing a college education, he moved to California in 1944 where he has resided ever since. Starting in his early 30’s, he wrote and conducted arrangements for artists including Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby (“Do You Hear What I Hear?”), Stan Kenton, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Jack Jones. He also was a primary arranger/conductor for pianist Roger Williams, creating 20 albums together including 1965’s hit “Born Free.”

Carmichael got a big break when legendary Capitol Records producer Lee Gillette was introduced to some of Ralph’s arrangements in the late 1950s. This led to a prolific collaboration between Ralph and Nat King Cole starting with Nat’s 1960 Christmas album titled “The Magic of Christmas” which was re-packaged in 1962 as “The Christmas Song.” Tracks from this album are still heard every Christmas. Cole and Carmichael produced nine full studio projects together, including Nat’s final sessions in 1964 for the album “L•O•V•E,” recorded just weeks prior to Nat’s death – more collaborations with Nat than any other single arranger.

Carmichael’s skills were also utilized in writing charts for TV shows including “I Love Lucy,” “December Bride,” “Bonanza” and “The Frankie Laine Show,” and he was music director for “The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Show,” “The King Family Show.” “O.K. Crackerby,” “My Mother the Car” and “What’s This Song?” He was also music director on TV specials for Bing Crosby, Barbara McNair & Count Basie, Julie London, Oral Roberts and Anita Bryant, as well as 14 years with Pat Boone on the Easter Seals Telethon.

Ralph had an extensive history of writing movie scores, including cult classics “The Blob” starring Steve McQueen and “4D Man” starring Robert Lansing, as well as for “The Cross and the Switchblade” starring Erik Estrada and Pat Boone. For many years he wrote film music for the Billy Graham organization: “Mr. Texas,” “Oiltown, U.S.A.,” “The Restless Ones,” “For Pete’s Sake” and “His Land” among numerous others. 

He recorded for most of the major labels: CAPITOL (Nat King Cole, Frankie Laine, Ella Fitzgerald, Sue Raney, Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, Stan Kenton, Tex Ritter, Peggy Lee, Barbara McNair, Ann Richards and his own LPs); KAPP (Jack Jones, Roger Williams, Shani Wallis and his own orchestra); WARNER BROTHERS (Jimmy Durante, King Family, Allan Sherman and Clint Walker); DOT (Pat Boone); RCA VICTOR (George Beverly Shea, Laymen Singers, Billy Graham and Paul Horn). He also recorded numerous projects for International Sacred, Sacred, Christian Faith, Word, Light and Brentwood labels.  

A graduate of Southern California Bible College, he became head of the school’s music department in his early 20s. His first achievement was “Campus Christian Hour” that aired on KHJ-TV in Los Angeles, featuring his college band and singers with big band treatments of hymns and gospel songs. The show won an Emmy in 1951.

Carmichael is considered to be the Father of Contemporary Christian Music because of his focus on creating religious music for the new generation of the 1960’s and beyond. In 1968 he created his own record and publishing companies, Light Records and Lexicon Music Publishing, to promote new Christian artists in addition to his own music, projects that were considered too risky for mainstream labels. Some of the early artists on his label were Andrae Crouch, the Continental Singers, Cliff Richard and Ralph’s studio group “The Young People.” He also served for several years as president of the Gospel Music Association.

Composer of over 300 gospel songs, Carmichael’s compositions have been sung around the world and are standard in many church hymnals – “The Savior Is Waiting,” “There Is A Quiet Place,” “Reach Out to Jesus,” and “He’s Everything to Me” to name a few. His songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley, The Carpenters, George Beverly Shea and hundreds of other artists.

Inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2001, Carmichael toured for about 25 years with his own big band. He received the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award in 1994 for his big band CD “Strike Up the Band.” Ralph’s autobiography, “He’s Everything to Me,” was published in 1986.

Carmichael is survived by his wife Marvella; children Andrea, Greg, and Erin; grandchildren and great grandchildren; nieces and nephews. His daughter Carol Carmichael Parks predeceased him.