By: Allison McClanahan, Collections and Cataloging Librarian, Archives of Traditional Music, Indiana University
“You don’t write melodies. You find them. They lie there on the keys waiting for you to find them.”–Hoagy Carmichael
This year marks the ninetieth anniversary of the recording of Stardust composed by Bloomington’s own Hoagland Howard Carmichael (1899-1981), better known as Hoagy Carmichael. Stardust, (or Star Dust – to Hoagy it was correct either way) is arguably one of the best known and most recorded songs in American music.
It has been recorded and covered by many musicians and musical groups, from Louis Armstrong to Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, to Liberace to Ringo Starr. It is a song that has existed, survived, and thrived through the decades and musical eras, and one whose creation is steeped in mythology and embellishment, both by others and Hoagy himself.
Hoagy was born in Bloomington, Indiana on November 22, 1899. Hoagy was interested in music from a young age, being toted around by his mother while she played piano at different venues around town in Bloomington, and having a drive to learn the piano from anyone around him.
He learned to play the piano from his mother, and was absorbed by the technique of an African American ragtime piano player named Reggie Duval that he befriended while living in Indianapolis growing up.
Hoagy called himself a “local boy who makes good.”  It could be said that Hoagy continually struggled with the pull between a “respectful” career in law, and his passion for music. His performances on piano (and antics with his friends and fraternity brothers) helped get him through his time at Indiana University.
By the end of the first semester of 1925, he had the credits to graduate, but instead focused on his music and bands that were playing nearly non-stop. 
By this point Hoagy already had a few compositions (notably Boneyard Shuffle, Washboard Blues, and Riverboat Shuffle). A self-taught composer, Hoagy said in his autobiography The Stardust Road that “You don’t write melodies. You find them. They lie there on the keys waiting for you to find them.” 
To Hoagy, music was playing with emotions and events in one’s life, and the things he did and the people that he knew and loved are reflected in the tunes that Hoagy was to compose. One of those, of course, being Stardust.
As mentioned previously, the story surrounding the creation of Stardust has changed throughout time, in accounts by others and even Hoagy himself.
The romantic version of the story goes something like this: On a warm and balmy summer night at the edge of the turn of the season in 1926, Hoagy was walking down Indiana Avenue, reminiscing about past loves, his youth passing by, friends and times past, and stopped at the “spooning wall” across from the Book Nook.
The Book Nook was a social spot for Indiana University students, and the stage for many of Hoagy and his friends’ college antics, located at 114 Indiana Avenue, now home to BuffaLouie’s at the Gables, so it makes sense that it would be a place of fond memories past for Hoagy.
Thinking on all of these themes, a tune danced into Hoagy’s mind, at which point he realized he had a great tune and ran to the Book Nook, which was then closing, and demanded to use the piano to work out the tune.
This is where differences of recollections surrounding Stardust enter. Regarding that fateful night of musical discovery, some say that he simply worked out the melody, while others (such as Will Friedwald), add a bit about Hoagy writing down the tune.
Others assert that the tune was not a random musical thought at all, but one that Hoagy had been working on (or at least whistling and humming) in fragmentary versions well before 1926. 
According to Charles “Bud” Dant, Hoagy had introduced a new “jam piece” with no title at a Kappa Sig dance on campus, which ended up being the basis of the melody for Stardust. 
Ernie Pyle, a correspondent and journalist, reported that Hoagy in fact worked out Stardust at his family’s home in Indianapolis, saying “I’d like to tell you about the evening he wrote it, but he asked me not to, because he says that the public likes to think these sweet songs are conceived under moonlight, amid roses and soft breezes.”  Hoagy stated in a letter dated May 4, 1962 that he played the first eight bars of Stardust on the piano at the Book Nook. 
Hoagy later said that the song was conceived on that summer night in Bloomington, but that he continued to work on it in Indianapolis with his family, which included adding a verse, piano interlude, and clarinet passage. 
It was coming into being in due process. Hoagy said that the title Stardust was the creation of his college roommate Stu Gorrell, who had caught up with him in Indianapolis shortly after that late summer night. Gorrell had said to Hoagy that the tune reminded him “of the dust from the stars drifting down through a summer night,” suggested the name, and the name stuck. 
It seems as though many of the sources on the matter agree that most likely it was worked on in both Bloomington and Indianapolis. Hoagy himself states in a draft letter that he finished the tune on an old grand piano which was quickly worn out and then potentially sent to the junk yard.  Hoagy said of the finished tune “That one’s all the girls, the university, the family, the old golden oak [his mother’s piano], all the good things gone, all wrapped up in a melody.” 
On October 31, 1927, Hoagy gathered a group of musicians—Emil Seidel, Byron Smart, Oscar Rossberg, Gene Woods, Dick Kent, Maurice Bennett, Don Kimmell, Paul Brown, and Cliff Williams—to record the first pressing of Stardust at Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana. Gennett Records was part of the Starr Piano Company, housed in a building along the railroad tracks.
With no air conditioning, hot and stagnant air filled the studio, but it had to remain that hot to keep the master disc base material pliable so that the records could be cut. Of that first recording, Hoagy felt like they didn’t do the song perfectly, and that it was a ragged performance, but the melody had sustained them despite their playing; that the melody was bigger than Hoagy was. 
When the piece was first recorded, it did not yet have lyrics. Hoagy wrote lyrics himself for the tune sometime between 1927 and 1928, and the lead sheet for copyright was submitted on January 5, 1928. It differs from later published versions of the piece (which could give some credibility to the few accounts that Hoagy wasn’t exactly sure how he wanted it to be performed early on).  Hoagy’s original lyrics were:
Stardust melody, you hold a charm
Through the lonely years
Stardust strain, beautiful refrain
I hear you ringing in my ears.
But the world goes by, paying no attention to you;
To me you’re everything in life and love
I know, ‘deed it’s so;
(vocalizations for eight bars)
Oh stardust strain, in my heart you will remain,
Stardust melody, I love you heart and soul I do
‘Deed I do. 
The publishing company that had rights to Stardust, however, commissioned an up-and-coming lyricist, Mitchell Parish, to write lyrics for the piece. Parish, using both ideas from Hoagy’s original and Parish’s own ideas, wrote the now-popular lyrics, which were published in 1929. 
Among the first recordings of the Carmichael-Parish version are Ben Selvin, Bing Crosby, and Louis Armstrong’s recordings in 1931.   Stardust has now been cemented into the fabric of American music, recorded and covered by over 400 different artists and musical groups.
While many have covered the song vocally, there have been nearly as many instrumental versions. Aside from the jazz standards of piano, sax, or trumpet covers, Stardust has also been performed on vibraphone (Adrian Rollini in 1938), accordion (Phil Green in 1937), and even the washboard (Washboard Rhythm Kings in 1931). 
Many wonder why the song has been such a popular song throughout its history. Sudhalter himself questions what to even consider the form of Stardust, asking whether it is an American art song, folk melody, tone poem, or none of the above. He states that it’s a type of musical portrait, with “strong elicitations of time, scene, even character.”  Friedwald wonders if the popularity of Stardust might be partly due to the time in which it was released, lyrics written just before the depression evoking reminisces of a bygone time. 
And yet others still wonder (perhaps even Hoagy himself) if it was just the right tune, at the right time, with the right lyrics that transcend a time or theme.
October 31, 2017 marks ninety years since that fateful first recording, released as Gennett Records 6311, which passed through many hands, played on many phonograph players, and which holds a tune which has permeated musical history in America.
 Hoagy Carmichael and Stephen Longstreet, Sometimes I wonder: the story of Hoagy Carmichael (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965), p. 291.
 Hoagy Carmichael, The stardust road (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1983), p. 23.
 Richard M. Sudhalter, Stardust melody: the life and music of Hoagy Carmichael (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 93.
 Carmichael, The stardust road, p. 30
 Sudhalter, Stardust melody: the life and music of Hoagy Carmichael, p. 106.
 Ibid., 102.
 Ibid., 106.
 Hoagy Carmichael to Carl J. Schefer, May 4, 1962, part of the Hoagy Carmichael Collection at the Archives of Traditional Music.
 Carmichael and Longstreet, Sometimes I wonder: the story of Hoagy Carmichael, p. 188.
 Will Friedwald, Stardust melodies: the biography of twelve of Americas most popular ongs (New York: Pantheon Books, 2002), p. 5.
 Hoagy Carmichael to [Ralph Hancock], [ca. 1950s], part of the Hoagy Carmichael Collection at the Archives of Traditional Music.
 Carmichael, The stardust road, p. 129.
 Carmichael and Longstreet, Sometimes I wonder: the story of Hoagy Carmichael, p. 188.
 Sudhalter, Stardust melody: the life and music of Hoagy Carmichael, p. 109, 118.
 Duncan Scheidt, The jazz state of Indiana (Pittsboro, Indiana: Schiedt, 1977) p. 153.
 Sudhalter, Stardust melody: the life and music of Hoagy Carmichael, p. 139.
 Ibid., 140.
 Friedwald, Stardust melodies: the biography of twelve of Americas most popular Songs, p. 14.
 Ibid., 21.
 Sudhalter, Stardust melody: the life and music of Hoagy Carmichael, p. 112.
 Friedwald, Stardust melodies: the biography of twelve of Americas most popular Songs, p. 11