The legacy of Hoagy Carmichael


Indiana University, Bloomington. A student lawyer with a different kind of spirit. Hoagy Carmichael. The statue is a fabulous memorial in the midst of the campus. The video above was taken early one morning in May 2013 as I was en-route from Louisville to Richmond, IN. I took a detour to Bloomington to pay some sort of homage to Hoagy, before heading towards Indianapolis and then east to Richmond.

‘Stardust’ was first recorded in Richmond, Indiana, for Gennett Records (Gennett 6311) by Carmichael, with Emil Seidel and his Orchestra and the Dorsey brothers as “Hoagy Carmichael and His Pals,” on October 31, 1927, as a jazz instrumental. Possibly the recording with which he is most associated, it went on to become the most recorded tune of the 20th century numbering over 1500 such revisions. Hoagy said the inspiration for ‘Stardust’ came to him while on site at the University campus. The tune even has its own website! http://www.stardustsong.com/

Frank Loesser and Hoagy worked together in the 30s. Loesser was notorious for his violent temper, while Hoagy was.. not so much. Carmichael commented in the laconic way he had, “It was a good thing that he worked with me for a while. I had that sort of sobering Indiana effect on him.” They wrote together for Paramount and in 1938, struck three hits : Heart And Soul, Small Fry, and Two Sleepy People. With ‘Small Fry’, Hoagy wrote the tune while Loesser wrote the lyrics. It was first sung in the 1938 film Sing You Sinners, by Bing Crosby who recorded it the same year in a duet with Johnny Mercer.

About ‘Two Sleepy People’, Carmichael said in a 1973 interview : “I sat at the old upright piano Loesser had in the rented cottage, just fiddling around, Frank with a beer in his hand. Frank was trying to find a cigarette and I was too. Frank’s wife yelled ‘Write something, you bums!’ So Frank’s first reaction was to write ‘Here we are, out of cigarettes’, and I followed with my next melody line to match his words… and he sang ‘holding hands and yawning’. By that time we could both see here was a song situation.”

Hoagy Carmichael originally wrote the composition that would become ‘Skylark’ for a musical about his late friend, Bix Beiderbecke. The song’s melody is said to have been based on Beiderbecke’s solos, or at least the phrasing, possibly supported by the composition’s original title, ‘Bix Lix’ (i.e. ‘Bix Licks’). The musical did not get produced but Carmichael reworked the composition and passed the melody on to Johnny Mercer who, some months later, called Hoagy and sang him ‘Skylark’.

Mercer teamed up with Hoagy several times including the ‘Lazy Bones’ composition in 1933, to which Mercer added lyrics.

A New Orleans flavour is found in some tunes including ‘Up A Lazy River’, explained by the writer, Sidney Arodin, being a native of Louisiana. Carmichael arranged and recorded this one in 1930, modifying the lyrics also. Not far behind came no more New Orleanian a tune than ‘New Orleans’, in fact. Carmichael put this one together in 1932 with lyrics.

The following picture shows the western edge of the campus, and the administrative building for the University. If you can imagine where I’m standing as I took the picture, so behind me is the site of the ‘Book Nook’, where he is said to have composed Stardust on the piano they had (so he wrote in his 1946 book about his life). I’m really not sure about the description of him being ‘reared’, even allowing for arcane development of linguistics over the decades!

Hoagy plaque1

The building just to the right of the Hoagy tribute is now called ‘Buffa Louie’s at the Gables’. Chicken wings and the like is the fare. That was the revered ‘Book Nook’.

Hoagy plaque2

Within the campus itself is the building housing the Music Archives, and the room dedicated to Hoagy. The Hoagy Carmichael Room, designed as a memorial to Indiana’s famous songwriter and performing artist, contains a representative sample of the large collection of memorabilia donated to the Archives of Traditional Music by the Carmichael family. The collection includes a piano, music manuscripts, recordings, photographs, scrapbooks, and paintings. Located in Morrison Hall on the Indiana University Bloomington campus, the room is also open by appointment (812-855-4679) during regular Archives hours.

Hoagy room

This plaque below is right behind the sculpture of a seated-at-the-piano Hoagy, demonstrating a concerted fund-raising effort to honour the former graduate. You’ll get a good look from every angle of the scultpure in my video above if you haven’t already viewed it.

Hoagy plaque at piano

And finally, we arrive back at the ‘Gables’.. the ‘Book Nook’ that was.. if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know the significance.

Book Nook
Away from the University, below is 536 S Washington Street in early 2013. This was Carmichael’s home in 1925. It sustained bad damage in a fire, hence the rather sorry appearance here.

Book Nook


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