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Blog post by Randi Richardson

On a moonlit night, under a star-studded sky, a melancholy, young man sat on the spooning wall situated on the south side of campus along Third Street.  It was late summer before the students returned to campus for the fall semester of 1927.  All was quiet as he pondered his life.

Only a year ago he, too, had been a student at IU.  He had completed a law degree and gone to Florida to pursue a law career.  Unhappy with his career choice, he had given the pursuit up of law before he barely had time to begin.  There was also the matter of his love life.  He had cared deeply for two lovely young women but not enough to make a trip to the altar.  What lay ahead of him, he wondered?

As he pondered his future be began to whistle an unfamiliar tune.  It came out of nowhere.  And suddenly thoughts of his past were forgotten.  He focused only on the music that rang in his ears.  Arising from his seat, he raced several blocks to the Book Nook, a place where he had spent much time pounding out music on the ivories of a badly worn piano during his student days.  There he tentatively picked out the tune he had whistled.  During the next several months he worked to perfect it.  When he finished, he titled it “Star Dust.”

This life-size sculpture of Hoagy at the piano is located near the Fine Arts Building on the IU-Bloomington campus.

The young man, if you haven’t guessed by now, was Hoagland “Hoagy “ Carmichael.  Hoagy, a Bloomington native, was born November 22, 1899, the son of Howard C. and Lida Mary (Robison) Carmichael.  His mother was an accomplished piano player.  She favored ragtime and was sought after for dances held by local fraternities, but she also played at churches, the circus when it came to town and accompanied movies in theaters during an age of silent films.  Whatever she could do to support her family she did.  Meanwhile Hoagy’s father had tried his hand first at one thing and then another, never earning enough to live beyond meager circumstances.Hoagy often accompanied his mother when she played in different venues.  He loved to hear her play and often slept beside the piano while she knocked out a raucous medley of tunes.   So it comes as no surprise that he developed a musical ear quite early.  His talent, which became quite obvious while a student at IU, expanded beyond the boundaries of Bloomington which brought him in close contact with other musicians who already were well known throughout the country.

Mitchell Parish was one such musician.  Like Hoagy, he abandoned the notion of practicing law and in 1919 was hired as a staff writer for music publishers on Tin Pan Alley.   In 1929, Mitchell and Hoagy collaborated to add lyrics to “Star Dust” later renamed “Stardust.”     It didn’t become a hit, however, until Isham Jones recorded “Stardust” as a sentimental ballad in 1930.  Between the ‘30s and ‘40s just about every prominent bandleader and singer performed it, making it one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century.   In 2004, Carmichael’s 1927 recording of the song was among 50 chosen by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Recording Registry established to preserve recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

To this day, “Stardust” has been recorded more than 1,500 times.  Contemporary artists who have recorded “Stardust” include, among others, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Ringo Starr and Rod Stewart. Recordings of “Stardust” by a variety of both old and new artists can be heard online at “50 Cover Versions of ‘Stardust’ That are Better Than Bob Dylan’s.”

Hoagy died in 1981 at his home in California at the age of 82.  His music, however, lives on including a number of songs that may be familiar to you but recorded by others such as “Georgia on My Mind” sung by Ray Charles.  For more information, check out Hoagy’s online biography or read the autobiography as noted below.


  • Hoagy Carmichael with Stephen Longstreet, Sometimes I Wonder:  The Story of Hoagy Carmichael (NY:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965).  NOTE:  This is an interesting, well-written book with many references to the people and places of Bloomington.