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Stella By Starlight (1946)

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Origin and Chart Information
“The song itself became a dramatic focal point when Milland’s character Rod serenades his Stella...”

- JW

Rank 10
Music Victor Young
Lyrics Ned Washington

Victor Young and His Orchestra introduced “Stella by Starlight” in the 1944 Paramount film, The Uninvited, a ghost story starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey and Gail Russell. While Young’s composition was written as the film’s recurrent theme, the song itself became a dramatic focal point when Milland’s character Rod serenades his Stella, played by Russell. Looking out the window while Rod is at his grand piano Stella asks what he is playing. Rod replies, “It’s a serenade. ‘To Stella by Starlight.’”


More on Victor Young at JazzBiographies.com

The Uninvited garnered generally good reviews when it was released and to this day receives high marks from home video consumers. Lewis Allen directed with restraint, using almost no graphic images, demonstrating how effectively chilling a ghost story can be when more is left to the imagination. Allen’s frequent light touches are engaging and keep the film moving at a steady pace.

In May of 1947, “Stella by Starlight,” recorded by Harry James and His Orchestra, rose to number 21 on the pop charts. Two months later, in July, Frank Sinatra’s recording of the song with Axel Stordahl and His Orchestra also reached 21st place.


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

Although “Stella by Starlight” was composed as a theme song, it was to everyone’s advantage to enhance the Young composition. The addition of lyrics would increase the chances of the song becoming a pop hit, and a vocal hit could promote the film and vice-versa. When Young turned “Stella by Starlight” over to Ned Washington, he also posed the lyricist a bit of a problem. The song had already been titled, and Washington had to incorporate the phrase into his lyrics. The lyricist found he could only fit the title one place in the song, and as a result “Stella by Starlight” is unusual in that its title is not at the beginning or end of the song but about three-quarters of the way through.


More on Ned Washington at JazzBiographies.com

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Miles Davis and John Coltrane
The Complete Columbia Recordings
2004 Sony 65833
Original recording 1958
Never has this tune swung harder than in the hands of Miles’ classic, under-recorded sextet. Miles shines here, as do John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans.
Miles Davis
Highlights from the Plugged Nickel
Sony 67377
Original recording 1965
With his classic 1960s quintet, Miles deftly takes this tune in so many directions that it hardly seems as though it could be a single performance.
Bill Evans
Conversations With Myself
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1963
This lush, elegant performance documents Evans’ controversial foray into overdubbing multiple piano parts. The controversy abated with time and with the awareness of how tastefully he was using this technology.
Joe Henderson
State of the Tenor
1994 Blue Note 28874
Original recording 1985
Henderson plays tastefully and emotively in an interactive trio with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster.

- Noah Baerman

The Monty Alexander Quintet
Ivory & Steel
1990, Concord 4124
Original recording, 1980
Pianist Alexander’s Quintet features the fabulous Othello Molineaux on steel drums. His improvisations on “Stella by Starlight” are a highlight of the CD which contains jazz compositions by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Nat Adderley, and Milt Jackson.
Chris Connor
Sings Lullabies of Birdland

This CD combines two marvelous 10-inch LP’s which Connor recorded in 1953 plus a few big band sides. “Stella” is from the Lullabys for Lovers LP with bassist Vinnie Burke’s unusual quartet of accordion, guitar and drums embellished by the flute and clarinet work of Ron Odrich (whose name is mispelled on the original LP). The group swings the tune lightly and Connor’s sensual alto lends the song intimacy and joy. Lovely improvisations by Odrich and accordionist Don Burns add to the uniqueness of this rendition.

- Sandra Burlingame

Tony Bennett
1990 Sony 40424
Original recording 1964
Vocalist Bennett and orchestra lend a gentle swing to “Stella by Starlight.”’
Joe Lovano
I'm All For You
2004, Blue Note 91950

Saxist Lovano delivers “Stella by Starlight”’ with reverence yet still manages to tweak its core to give it new passion. This quartet recording, featuring the great Hank Jones on piano, was played live to disc.

- Ben Maycock

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