According to Carmichael, the inspiration for “Stardust” (the song’s original title was “Star Dust”, which has long been compounded into “Stardust”) came to him while he was on the campus of his alma mater, Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. He began whistling the tune, then rushed to the Book Nook, a popular student hangout, and started composing. He worked to refine the melody over the course of the next several months, likely in Bloomington or Indianapolis (sources cite various locations, and Carmichael himself liked to embellish the facts about the song’s origins). “Stardust” was first recorded in Richmond, Indiana, for Gennett by Carmichael with Emil Seidel and his Orchestra and the Dorsey brothers as “Hoagy Carmichael and His Pals” on October 31, 1927, as a peppy but mid-tempo jazz instrumental. Carmichael said he was inspired by the improvisations of Bix Beiderbecke. The tune at first attracted only moderate attention, mostly from fellow musicians, a few of whom (including Don Redman) recorded their own versions.
Mitchell Parish wrote lyrics for the song, which were published in 1929, based on his and Carmichael’s ideas. A slower version had been recorded in October 1928, but the transformation came on May 16, 1930, when bandleader Isham Jones recorded it as a sentimental ballad. “Stardust” is a 32-bar melody with a slightly unusual ABAC structure preceded by a 16-bar verse. Although the verse is often omitted in recordings, Frank Sinatra made a recording in 1961 of just the verse. The verse and chorus have the same final cadence, though other than that they are musically distinct.