Hoagy Carmichael sculpture finds permanent home at Indiana University

Sept. 5, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — After a whirlwind tour across Indiana last summer, the bronze sculpture depicting Bloomington’s famous jazz composer and songwriter Hoagy Carmichael will come home to rest in a permanent location on Indiana University’s campus.

The Hoagy Carmichael Landmark Sculpture will be dedicated with a public ceremony at 5 p.m., Sept. 18, in the grand foyer of the IU Auditorium. The dedication coincides with a meeting of the Trustees of Indiana University and is hosted by IU President Michael McRobbie and IU Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson. The sculpture of the Bloomington native, who died in 1981, will rest outside the northeast side of the IU Auditorium, along Jordan Avenue.

IU Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Terry Clapacs said the area was perfect for the sculpture, which features Carmichael at his trademark Steinway piano.

“The area has recently been reconfigured as a garden and pedestrian walkway right outside what will become the new cinema for the university,” said Clapacs. “There’s a spot that, when it’s finished, will look like Hoagy is sitting at his grand piano serenading crowds as they go in and out of the cinema.”

Hoagy Carmichael was born in Bloomington in 1899 and earned both his bachelor’s degree (1925) and his law degree (1926) from IU. As a student at IU, he began to compose songs and perform regularly with Carmichael’s Collegians, the first band he led at the university. After law school, he worked briefly as a law clerk before pursuing a music career, writing many of the songs that have become American jazz standards, including “Stardust,” “Heart and Soul” and “Georgia on My Mind.” Carmichael won the 1952 Oscar for his song “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” had his own television show and even acted in several movies.

“Hoagy was an important figure in the new jazz era of this country and someone who was breaking new ground on the music scene,” said Clapacs. “His writing and recording the song ‘Star Dust’ — which at one time was the most recorded song in the history of the world — is a remarkable achievement, considering it was written right here, across Indiana Avenue, where the Gables building sits. I think the statue captures the spirit of Hoagy Carmichael in a way that Indiana University likes to remember him.”

Like Hoagy Carmichael, sculptor Michael McAuley grew up in Bloomington, but didn’t he learn of Carmichael until college at IU.

“When I heard that he was from Bloomington as I was, and we both went to IU in a field of creativity, that connection synthesized together to make him a really interesting person to me,” said McAuley.

After teaching art in Oregon, Mississippi and Indiana, McAuley moved back to Bloomington in 2000 to open his own design studio. Upon his return to Bloomington, he visited Carmichael Center and noted that there was nothing — not even a plaque — that explained who Hoagy Carmichael was.

With approval and seed money from the Carmichael family, McAuley set out to commemorate the composer and musician who made such an impact on American jazz music. He said it took about a year to create the sculpture and work through the details of making the piano look realistic while determining how best to handle the shrinkage that occurs when bronze heats and cools.

Those who stroll through IU’s campus and take their picture next to the statue of Herman B Wells will now also have the chance to share a seat (and photo op) on the piano bench with Hoagy.

“I like the fact that people can sit with him and be engaged in an activity with him,” said McAuley. “I’m fascinated by Hoagy and I hope others will be able to connect with him, too.”