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Ralph Carmichael, the versatile songwriter, composer and conductor whose prolific career spanned television, film and Christian music died Oct. 18 in Camarillo, CA at age 94. His official Facebook page, which announced the news, did not specify a cause of death.
“Without exaggeration, Ralph’s talent and influence has shaped the world of music for generations and will continue to bless and enrich our world for many generations to come,” reads the post. “He was extraordinarily gifted, was the consummate professional and a dear friend.”
Born May 27, 1927 in Quincy, Ill., Carmichael’s decades-long career was kindled at Southern California Bible College (now Vanguard University), where he headed his alma mater’s music department in his early ’20s. There, he formed a band that won a spot on “Campus Christian Hour,” garnering him an Emmy Award in 1951.
That year proved to be a springboard for his career, as Carmichael also composed incidental music for “I Love Lucy,” as he would for “December Bride,” “Bonanza” and “The Frankie Lane Show.” It was also the year he embarked on his first project as a film composer with the Christian-themed Western “Mt. Texas.”
In the fifties and sixties, Carmichael earned numerous credits with his film and television scores, perhaps most notably for sci-fi horror hit “The Blob” starring Steve McQueen. Theme songs for cult classic shows like “My Mother the Car” and “O.K. Crackerby!” followed in the mid-sixties.
After this era, Carmichael lent his talents to the pop world, writing and composing music for the likes of Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Stan Kenton, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Jack Jones. He enjoyed long-lasting creative partnerships with Roger Williams (for whom he composed 20 albums including 1966’s “Born Free”) and Nat King Cole.
Cole and Carmichael’s collaboration produced nine albums, including “The Magic of Christmas” in 1960. Carmichael’s arrangement of “The Christmas Song” is widely considered a holiday classic.
Also known as the “Father of Contemporary Christian Music,” he is equally famed for his contributions to the gospel and Christian music genres. He penned over 300 gospel songs in his lifetime, landing him a place in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2001. Standout titles include “The Savior Is Waiting,” “There Is A Quiet Place,” “Reach Out to Jesus,” and “He’s Everything to Me.”
Committed to fostering Christian musicianship, Carmichael founded record and publishing companies in 1968 as well as his studio group The Young People. He presided over the Gospel Music Association for many years and contributed songs to the Billy Graham Organization.
For 25 years, Carmichael also toured with his own band, winning the 1994 Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award for his CD “Strike Up the Band.”
He is survived by his wife Marvella, along with children Andrea, Greg, and Erin; grandchildren and great grandchildren; and nieces and nephews. His daughter Carol Carmichael Parks predeceased him.
“Ralph enjoyed his life to the fullest. He was passionate about the music that flowed from his soul and created it as the consummate professional,” another Facebook post on his page stated.
“He cared deeply for his family and friends, and he lived out his cowboy dreams with the many horses that he owned along the way. He laughed easily, loved deeply, enjoyed a good joke or a prank, and charmed anyone who came across his path. Undergirding it all was his abiding faith in his Lord Jesus Christ.”