BORN: May 28, 1927 in Quincy, Illinois
FAMILY: Marvella (wife), Carol Carmichael Parks (daughter)
• In 1985 inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame
• Published his autobiography, He’s Everything to Me (Word Books) in 1986
• Will make history in 2013 on the Ralph Carmichael Legacy Tour as the oldest conductor to embark on a 30-city tour.
(You can be part of it!
Every single life has the potential to make a permanent, irreversible impact on the world. The life of Ralph Carmichael is a vivid example of how one musician has changed an entire genre of music. He has even been called the “father of contemporary Christian music” and now, after 65 years of making music, he is still going strong.
In Bill Gaither’s words, “Ralph Carmichael is one of the great living pioneers in gospel music. He was the rst serious orchestrator to come along and take our industry to a new level. Gospel music was, at one time, limited to piano or organ accompaniment. But Ralph changed all that by adding full orchestration and creating a dimension never before used in gospel music. His arrangements are stunning and timeless.”
Bill also fondly recalls the time spent with Carmichael during the Young Messiah Tour (1990-1996), which Ralph spearheaded musically: “I will never forget the Gaither Vocal Band’s experience working with that tour. Seeing Ralph in action was inspiring. He has a gift for combining the best of the past — like a renowned piece of classical music such as Handel’s Messiah — and blending it with the best of now.”
Ralph grew up in the home of a pastor and was deeply impacted by traditional church music. His father encouraged him to pursue his varied musical tastes, from classical to pop to gospel.
He committed his life to Christ as a 17-year-old and went on to Southern California Bible College (Vanguard University), where his musical gifts flourished. It was during this time that he first began putting together groups and ensembles. During his college years, Ralph also produced a local weekly TV show called “The Campus Christian Hour,” which featured Ralph and a band of his fellow college students playing big band arrangements of gospel standards. That TV program ran for over a year and won an Emmy Award in 1949.
After college, Carmichael spent ve years as minister of music at a Baptist church in Los Angeles, where he wrote an invitational hymn, “The Savior is Waiting,” that has since been sung in churches far and wide. While he was working at the church, he also began a long-time relationship with World Wide Pictures, the motion picture division of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, and by 1970 he had scored more than 20 feature films.
Because he recorded many of those film scores at Capitol Records’ studios in Hollywood, Ralph got the attention of Capitol executives who began hiring him to arrange for such renowned artists as Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como and many others. He also composed music for television shows, including “I Love Lucy,” “Roy Rogers & Dale Evans,” “Bonanza” and “The Danny Kaye Show.” He worked for years with legendary pianist Roger Williams, with whom he scored the million-selling smash, “Born Free.”
Ralph’s rich and varied experiences in popular music, however, are dwarfed by his countless contributions to gospel music. He credits his years working in the secular music industry as the greatest education of his life. As a result, he was able to bring a deep well of expertise to his work in gospel music.
In the 1960s and ’70s, he began experimenting with popular and folk music that would turn the ears of his generation to music that could speak to their spiritual needs. He is the writer of multiple modern hymns, musicals, carols, symphonies and chorales and has worked with virtually every kind of vocal and instrumental ensemble. His music has stood up over time and has drawn countless listeners who might never have heard those timeless spiritual truths.
Carmichael formed Light Records/ Lexicon Music as a vehicle for the music he was creating, thus launching the careers of such influential artists as Andraé Crouch, the Winans, Dino, Reba Rambo, the Archers, Rez Band and Bryan Duncan.
In addition to his leadership of the Young Messiah Tour, which was the largest grossing Christian musical tour in gospel music history, he later led the Emmanuel Tour, featuring the industry’s most sought after contemporary artists.
Ralph celebrated his big-band roots once again with recordings including Strike Up the Band, which won the Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year in 1994.
The year 2007 marked Carmichael’s 60th year in Christian Music, and he celebrated by recording a big-band album, Ralph Carmichael and Friends Live, at his Alma Mater, Vanguard University.
It is impossible to imagine the world of gospel music as we know it without the brilliance and skill that Ralph Carmichael has brought to this field. His fearlessly progressive ideas have exposed countless listeners to the life-giving truth of the gospel through relevant and beautiful music. Year after year, project after project, his vision has inspired us and, most importantly, has glorified our Creator.