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Bloomington Herald-Times

June 18, 2007

Capturing a legend; New statue debuts, tours state, re-educating Hoosiers about Hoagy Carmichael
By Andy Graham 331-4346 |
June 17, 2007

He was a Bloomington boy who played in and around Indiana University's campus while growing up; eventually graduated from IU; then pursued a passion to forge a life in art.

Hoagy Carmichael fits that description.

Michael McAuley does, too.

McAuley felt somebody should create a hometown landmark of a scale and sensibility to properly commemorate Carmichael's significant contributions to popular music and culture during the past century.

And McAuley figured he might be just the man to do it.

The primary result of McAuley's efforts, and those who have helped him along the way, was unveiled Friday evening during the Indy Jazz Fest at Military Park in Indianapolis.

The life-size bronze statue of Carmichael seated at the piano will tour the state, visiting 15 Indiana cities to help reacquaint Hoosiers with one of their state's significant historical figures, before being affixed to a permanent Bloomington location this fall.

That location isn't predetermined. Peoples Park is one of the proposed sites, and on-campus locations are being considered.

A state historical marker was dedicated June 2 at 114 S. Indiana Ave. on the sidewalk outside the spot Carmichael wrote the bulk of his immortal "Stardust" 80 years ago.

Then there is "Georgia on my Mind," "Heart and Soul," "Up a Lazy River, "Rockin' Chair," "New Orleans," "Lazybones," "Skylark" ... the list of Carmichael standards still resonates deeply with those who value the development of American music from the jazz age on.

As film matured as an art form, Carmichael became a celebrated character actor. He graced at least 14 films, appearing alongside Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not," with Bacall and Kirk Douglas in "Young Man With a Horn" and with Frederic March and Myrna Loy in "The Best Years of Our Lives." He also wrote songs for the medium. He earned a 1946 Academy Award nomination for "Old Buttermilk Sky," and shared the 1952 Oscar with Johnny Mercer for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening."

And not just anybody had the pop-culture clout to appear as a caricature in the ground-breaking animated television series, "The Flintstones," as Carmichael did for a 1961 episode.

Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, described the spy's physical appearance as akin to Carmichael's.

But even with all that and despite growing up in Bloomington, McAuley didn't know who Carmichael was until he got to IU and a professor clued him in.

"I heard about Hoagy in college, not before," McAuley said. "After I was told, I said, 'Why haven't I heard about him?' And I also thought, 'He's so special, so why isn't there any really substantial tribute to him here in Bloomington?'"

McAuley returned to Bloomington in 2000 -- having taught art at the high school and college levels in Oregon, Mississippi and his home state -- to open his own design studio and concentrate on his sculpting. "When I came back and saw the Carmichael Center building, right on the corner of Kirkwood and Indiana, I thought, 'Good, there will be a plaque to Hoagy or something,' but I didn't see one," he recalled. "I asked people shopping there if they knew where the name came from, and they didn't. Most guessed it was a past president of IU."

McAuley decided it was time somebody did something about that, and sculpture seemed an admirable avenue for it.

"I'd done life-size sculpture, knew I could do it, but I didn't have the deep pockets or moneyed network to finance it," McAuley said. "I thought if Hoagy Bix (Carmichael, Hoagy's eldest son) and the family would put their blessing on it and help with some seed money, I could proceed.

"The idea took off, and more people I talked with agreed that it should be done, that it needed to be done."

And now the statue is done, with the separately created elements of Hoagy and the Steinway piano fused just a week before its unveiling and treated with a blue-black patina. It weighs between 700 and 800 pounds. It's roughly five feet wide and eight feet long, due to the piano, and just under five feet in height with Hoagy seated on the piano bench.

Randy Carmichael, Hoagy's second son and a financial supporter of the project, who attended the unveiling, knew he'd like it.

"I saw a small mock-up Michael did a year or so ago," Carmichael said, "and it was so wonderful to see the care and talent that went into it. I knew it would be a wonderful statue, a classic forever."

Charles Webb, dean emeritus of IU's Jacobs School of Music and an acquaintance of Hoagy's, marveled at the veracity of McAuley's work. "It's magnificent," said Webb, who was also at the Jazz Fest ceremony. "I was able to follow this from the beginning, went to the reception where they unveiled the plaster casting of it, and the features — in terms of Hoagy's face and body and also the piano -- are superbly done.

"I think it is a true likeness of Hoagy, and I remember well being with him on a number of occasions before he died (in December of 1981). It's going to be really impressive to people, when they see this."

McAuley captured Carmichael working on a composition, pencil propped in his ear, intoning a melody as he studies sheet music, sleeves rolled up, right hand poised on the keyboard. Some coins have rolled out of his left pants pocket -- as if to note he wasn't in it for the money, anyhow.

"I wanted it to embody those things that made him who he was," McAuley said of the famed singer/composer/actor. "To me, he's not the leisurely, wealthy shorts-wearing gent living in California. It was in Indiana where his life was formed, and I think he represents the likability and work-ethic of Hoosiers."

"So it's not a sterile, Disney-style smiling face you'd get in a publicity photo. You're taking a candid peak through a keyhole of his studio, seeing him at work. That's how I want people to feel when they walk away."

Just where people will see the statue in Bloomington needs finalizing, as does some of the financing for the project. McAuley said he'd raised about half the $180,000 goal on his own and had gotten significant seed money through the Central Indiana Community Foundation Fund, but is still around $60,000 shy. Patrons can visit to learn how to make their tax-deductible donations.

Regardless of whether the original fiscal goal is reached, the sculpture and concert educational tour of the state is on, and the sculpture is destined for Bloomington, where Carmichael was born and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

"This is a very worthy enterprise and something needed for a long time," Webb said. "Hoagy Carmichael is indelibly connected with Bloomington and the musical heritage of the state, the nation and the whole world. His was gargantuan achievement, and this sculpture is an entirely appropriate recognition of that."