Hoagy Carmichael


“Star Dust”

About this work

The classic song "Stardust" is among the best-known, most popular, and most enduring of all popular songs.

Hoagland Howard Carmichael (b. 1899, Bloomington, IN; d. 1981, Rancho Mirage, CA) was the son of Howard Clyde and Lida Mary (Robison) Carmichael. "Hoagy" (a nickname his high school girlfriend Dorothy Kelly gave to him) got his musical talent from his movie pianist mother.

He discovered jazz after his family moved to Indianapolis in 1915. Returning to Bloomington for college and law school, Carmichael was a popular campus musician and became friends with trumpet pioneer "Bix" Beiderbeck, who encouraged him to compose.

After graduating from law school in 1926, Carmichael went to Miami, FL, to start a law practice. By then, he had a New York publisher and Beiderbeck had recorded his "Riverboat Shuffle." Hearing a recording of another song, "Washboard Shuffle," Carmichael moved back to Bloomington to become a full-time musician.

Carmichael said "Stardust" came to him as he sat alone on Indiana University's so-called spooning wall, feeling love had passed him by; he had just learned Dorothy Kelly was engaged. "I looked up at the sky and whistled "Stardust," Carmichael wrote. He then rushed to the campus hangout, the Book Nook, and although it was closing time, talked proprietor Pete Costas into letting him use the piano a few minutes. "The notes sounded good," he added.

The next morning he tried to remember the song over biscuits and bacon gravy, and hummed it, his delight growing as he found he could recall it. He wrote it down and worked it into a manuscript. His former college roommate, Stan Gorrell, found the name for the tune, "Star Dust." A few weeks later, Carmichael gave a manuscript of it to a bandleader friend, Don Redman, in Detroit.

After he returned to Bloomington and was chatting with the family, his unmusical brother Harry wandered over to the piano and started to pick out the tune. Harry had never tried to do anything of the sort. Carmichael began to realize the song was something special, and soon recorded it with his own band, but as an up-tempo tune.

His publisher, Mills Music, published an instrumental version of it in January 1929. Later, they issued it with English words by Mitch Parish (a New York lyricist) and French words by Yvette Baruch under the title "Stardust" (now one word) . Irving Mills' own recording in jazz tempo charted at number 20 in 1930.

In 1930, bandleader Isham Jones was the first to play it at ballad tempo on a recording, which reached number one in 1931. Four other recordings of it also reached the top 100 charts that year, as have at least 13 other recordings since then. It has been recorded by artists including Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole, and Willie Nelson. It vies with only one other song, Lennon and McCartney's "Yesterday" (a song in the same mood), as the most-recorded and best-selling song of all time.