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Star Dust (1929)

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Origin and Chart Information
“[Ben Webster] did an impromptu four-minute improvisation on the number ... [which] became Webster’s own favorite recording. ”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 12
Music Hoagy Carmichael
Lyrics Mitchell Parish

On October 31, 1927, Hoagy Carmichael and His Pals recorded “Stardust” at the Gennett Records studio in Richmond, Indiana. Hoagy’s “pals,” Emil Seidel and His Orchestra, agreed to record the medium-tempo instrumental in between their Sunday evening and Monday matinee performances in Indianapolis, seventy miles away.

In 1928 Carmichael again recorded “Stardust,” this time with lyrics he had written, but Gennett rejected it because the instrumental had sold so poorly. The following year, at Mills Music, Mitchell Parish was asked to set lyrics to coworker Carmichael’s song. The result was the 1929 publication date of “Star Dust” with the music and lyrics we know today. The Mills publication changed the title slightly to “Star Dust” from “Stardust” as it was originally spelled.


More on Hoagy Carmichael at JazzBiographies.com

More on Mitchell Parish at JazzBiographies.com

Mills Music was owned and operated by brothers Irving and Jack Mills. Irving Mills was a songwriter and singer but is probably best remembered in his role as publisher and band manager, in particular with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In the latter half of the 1920’s Irving Mills recruited musicians for recording sessions using the names The Whoopee Makers and then Irving Mills and His Hotsy Totsy Gang. Band members would change almost month-to-month, but at some point these groups included top names such as Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, and Hoagy Carmichael.


More on Irving Mills at JazzBiographies.com

Irving Mills and His Hotsy Totsy Gang recorded “Star Dust” on September 20, 1929, on the Brunswick label, and the song rose to number 20 on the 1930 pop charts. Shortly after the Mills recording, Isham Jones and His Orchestra recorded “Star Dust” as a romantic ballad, and their recording became a top-selling, number one hit.


More on Isham Jones at JazzBiographies.com

There are many accounts of how “Star Dust” came to be written. Carmichael tells his version in autobiographies The Stardust Road (1945) and Sometime I Wonder (1965); Will Friedwald devotes a 36-page chapter to the song in his book Stardust Melodies (2002); and Richard Sudhalter discusses the origin of the song in his Carmichael biography Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael (2002). According to the songwriter, inspiration struck while visiting his old university campus. Sitting on a wall reminiscing about the town, his college days, and past romances, he looked up at the starlit sky and whistled “Star Dust.” Sudhalter’s biography contends that the melody may have begun with fragments, evolving over months and maybe years, but Carmichael preferred to perpetuate a myth that sweet songs are conceived in romantic settings.

“Star Dust” is arguably the most recorded pop tune in history and, as such, a top jazz standard. The song has appeared on the recording charts with over fifteen artists. Billboard Magazine’s 1955 poll of leading disk jockeys recognized “Star Dust” four times as an all-time, popular song record by:

Many other recordings of “Star Dust” made the recording charts over the years:

  • Irving Mills and His Hotsy Totsy Gang (1930, Hoagy Carmichael, Piano, #20)
  • Isham Jones and His Orchestra (1931, #1)
  • Bing Crosby (1931, #5)
  • Louis Armstrong (1931, Louis Armstrong, trumpet and vocal, #16)
  • Wayne King and His Orchestra (1931, #17)
  • Lee Sims (1931, #20)
  • Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra (Henry Wells, vocal) (1935, #10)
  • Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (1936, #2)
  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1936, Edythe Wright, vocal, #8) (flip side of Benny Goodman’s Victor recording)
  • Sammy Kaye and His Orchestra (1939, #16)
  • Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (1941, #2)
  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers, vocals) (1941, #7)
  • Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (1941, #20)
  • Baron Elliott and His Stardust Melodies Orchestra (1943, Stardust Trio, vocals, #18)
  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1943, #23) (reissue of the 1941 recording)
  • Bill Ward and His Dominos (1957, #12)
  • Nino Tempo and April Stevens (1964, #32)

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

(Chart information from the latter two entries is from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(Author/educator Forte book devotes nine pages to a thorough musical analysis of the song and its history.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Louis Armstrong
Ken Burns Jazz Collection
2000 Sony 61440
Original recording 1931
This is one of the classic performances displaying Armstrong’s emergence as a compelling frontman in a large ensemble environment.
Lionel Hampton
Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings
1996 GRP 652
Original recording 1947
Hamp’s epic live version of “Stardust” distributes solos among the all-star band, which includes such jazz giants as trumpeter Charlie Shavers, alto saxophonist Willie Smith, bassist Slam Stewart and guitarist Barney Kessel.
Clark Terry
Serenade to a Bus Seat
1993 Original Jazz Classics 66
Original recording 1957
Terry shows off his mastery of bittersweet ballads on this performance, which also features an energetic turn from tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin.
John Coltrane
Stardust Session
Prestige 24056
Original recording 1958
We get to hear Coltrane’s contemplative side here with the understated accompaniment of Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.
Sonny Stitt and Paul Gonsalves
Salt and Pepper
1997 GRP 210
Original recording 1963
This features wonderfully sensitive interplay between Stitt’s alto and Gonsalves’ tenor, and each saxophonist shines on his own as well.
Ron Carter
2002 Blue Note 37813

Bassist Carter plays a touching version of “Stardust” accompanied only by the piano of Sir Roland Hanna.

- Noah Baerman

Ernestine Anderson
Ernestine Anderson
1992, Polygram 14076
Original recording, 1958
In one of the singer’s earliest recordings she plays it straight with a beautiful ballad version.
Jon Hendricks & Friends
Freddie Freeloader
1993, Denon 76302
Original recording, 1990
Hendricks wrote lyrics to Louis Armstrong’s version of “Star Dust” and sings them here with Judith Hendricks and the Vocalstra in a unique take on the classic.

- Sandra Burlingame

Hoagy Carmichael
Ole Buttermilk Sky
1998 Collectors Choice 64

The master plays and sings the definitive version of “Star Dust”’ on this compilation that shows Carmichael to be arguably the finest singer-songwriter of all time.
Dave Brubeck Quartet
Jazz at Oberlin
1991 Original Jazz Classics 46
Original recording, 1953
This version, captured live at Oberlin College in Ohio, hints at the new directions Brubeck would be taking jazz with Time Out.
Lou Donaldson
A Man with a Horn
1999 Blue Note 21436
Original recording 1961
This album features a laid-back arrangement from the bluesy, hard bop saxophonist. The under-appreciated Donaldson trades some tasty solos with guitarist Grant Green.
Wynton Marsalis
Hot House Flowers
1990, Sony 39530
Original recording, 1984, Columbia
The song introduced this early Marsalis album and proved without a doubt that the trumpeter had something to say. “Star Dust” is the crown jewel of this excellent album.

- Ben Maycock

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