Thursday, June 30, 2011

Remembering 'Star Dust'

In honor of Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday on Dec. 12, 2015, I updated Harry's 2011 post on this blog by adding this photo and caption, and a link to the song he discusses below, Star Dust. Harry left behind Frank Sinatra books in his library, of course; I kept the one pictured above. He originally wrote this article for his column in the Leisure World apartment community newsletter in Silver Spring, MD.

A funny thing happened in the field of Popular Music on the way to the 21st century. Those of us who grew up in the 20th century, and that includes all of us Creekside residents and all other Leisure World residents as well, have memories of this song. We danced to this melody, we hummed along with it, we mouthed the lyrics whenever we heard it played -- we know this song. In every poll or survey of the most popular songs of the century, Star Dust was always included in the top ten and in most of them it led the list at Number One.

The melody was composed by Hoagy Carmichael in 1927 as a jazz piano interlude, purely instrumental. It was not until about 1929 or 1930 that Mitchell Parrish, that master lyricist, wrote the lyrics that captured the mood so completely. Yet, Star Dust does not follow the traditional format of most popular songs, neither in words nor in music. It is much more complicated. It lends itself to almost every tempo, from fast, syncopated jazz to slow, dreamy ballad. Not many songs can do that successfully.

It has been estimated that there have been at least five hundred formally registered recordings of this song, and nobody knows how many others not registered. It has been translated into some forty languages, too. And, just to clarify, while many publishers list the title as one word, Stardust, the proper, correct title is two words, Star Dust. Every major band, every band that performed for audiences, included Star Dust in its repertoire and every singer recorded it. The most successful recordings were by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore and Lena Horne.

But let's come back to the funny thing. As I said, a funny thing happened. All through the 20th century, Star Dust was without a doubt the most popular song in every poll. Then suddenly, early in the 21st century , the music industry proclaimed that the Number One song of the 20th century was -- ta,ta -- Over the Rainbow. Can you believe it? Now, I like Over the Rainbow, it's a nice song written by Harold Arlen who lived down the street from me in Buffalo, NY, and Judy Garland sang it charmingly in The Wizard of Oz. But I don't care what the music industry proclaims -- it was not the most popular song of the 20th century. Star Dust was.

Sing along with me, those magic words that evoke such romantic memories:

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart,
High up in the sky the little stars climb,
As always reminding me that we're apart.
You wandered down the lane and far away,
Leaving me a song that will not die,
Love is now the star dust of yesterday,
The music of the years gone by.
Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely night
Dreaming of a song. The melody
Haunts my reverie, And I am once again with you
When our love was new, and each kiss an inspiration.
But that was long ago, and now my consolation
Is in the star dust of a song.
Beside a garden wall when stars are bright,
You are in my arms. The nightingale
Tells his fairy tale of Paradise where roses grew.
Tho' I dream in vain, In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody, the memory of love's refrain.


  1. Sweet. We have been enjoying the Frank Sinatra specials this month.

  2. An old friend of Harry's wrote:

    Thanks, Elaine. We used to listen to a lot of Sinatra’s recordings in your dad’s office. And your dad’s knowledge, as always, was encyclopedic.