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Ralph Carmichael (born 28 May 1927, Quincy, Illinois) is a composer and arranger of both secular pop music and contemporary Christian music, being regarded as one of the pioneers of the latter genre. Married to Marvella and father to composer and artist Carol Parks.
His big break came at the end of the 1950s, when his work came to the attention of Capitol Records, who asked him to provide the arrangements for an album of mainly sacred Christmas songs by one of the label's biggest stars, Nat King Cole. The result, The Magic of Christmas, was released for the 1960 festive season, by which time Capitol had already set Carmichael to work with Cole on more secular albums.
Carmichael duly became Cole's most regularly utilised arranger from then until the singer's death in early 1965, their first mainstream pop collaboration being The Touch of Your Lips (also 1960), an album of romantic ballads backed by lush strings, and their final team-up being Cole's last album, L-O-V-E, with jazzy big band arrangements, recorded in December 1964, only two months before Cole succumbed to the lung cancer which was already in its advanced stages, although that is little evident from the recordings.
In between these two very different albums were Cole projects which demonstrated Carmichael's versatility even more, from the Latin arrangements of More Cole Espanol (1962), through the old-time music hall style of 1963's Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer, to the plaintive, country and western charts for I Don't Want to Be Hurt Anymore (1964).
Carmichael wrote arrangements for many other top performers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Stan Kenton, Jack Jones, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Al Martino and Roger Williams. Worthy of particular note are his charts for Sue Raney's comeback album All By Myself, recorded in 1963 and released in early 1964. Capitol Records had wanted Stan Kenton to back Raney on the project, but when the celebrated bandleader proved to be unavailable, they turned to Carmichael, who wrote hip, bluesy, big band arrangements in the Kenton style, which were considered to be accomplished substitutes. When Capitol promptly dropped Raney after she was knocked down by a car and left largely unable to promote the album during a long convalescence, the singer stuck with Carmichael to provide the arrangements for her next album on Philips Records.
In 1958, Carmichael was hired by producer Jack H. Harris to score his color science fiction film, The Blob. With the success of the film, Carmichael was brought back to score Harris' follow-up film, 4D Man.
He arranged most of the carols on the 1961 Stan Kenton album A Merry Christmas!.
It is in the field of Christian music that Carmichael has been most prolific. In particular, his experiments in pop-rock style in the 1960s and 1970s have brought him recognition as the "Father of Contemporary Christian Music". () () He founded Light Records in order to widen the audience for the music of the Jesus People. He was subject to controversy from within the church, being called a heretic for his use of guitars in worship and his adaptations of Gospel songs to big band stylings.
In 1969, Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser collaborated on Tell It Like It Is, a folk musical about God. The record album of the musical, which included the song "Pass It On", sold 2,500 copies, completely selling out the first run; it then completely sold out its second run of 100,000 copies.
In 1970, he made the funky urban soundtrack for The Cross and the Switchblade.
One of Carmichael's contemporary hymns, "Reach Out to Jesus", was recorded by Elvis Presley, on the singer's 1972 Grammy Award-winning album of sacred songs, He Touched Me. His album Strike Up the Band won a Dove Award for "Instrumental Album of the Year" at the 25th GMA Dove Awards in 1994.
His autobiography, He's Everything To Me, was published by Word Books in 1986.