Obituary: Mitchell Parish

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Mitchell Parish, lyricist and poet: born Shreveport, Louisiana 10 July 1900; died New York City 31 March 1993.

HOAGY CARMICHAEL's autobiography is entitled Sometimes I Wonder (1965). Its five long chapters are headed 'But That Was Long Ago', 'The Little Stars Climb', 'When Stars Are Bright', 'The Music of Years Gone By' and 'The Purple Dusk of Twilight Time'. That's six quotes in all from Mitchell Parish's lyric for Hoagy's 'Stardust', yet the lyricist is never once mentioned in the book's 313 pages.

It is not as if 'Stardust' represents Parish's only Carmichael lyric; he also set words to his 'Riverboard Shuffle', 'Washboard Blues', 'Blue Orchids', 'One Night in Havana' and 'One Morning in May'.

Other composers with whom Parish worked include Jimmy McHugh, Walter Donaldson, Sammy Fain, and the bandleaders Russ Morgan, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller. In the late 1930s Miller, unhappy with an Edward Heyman lyric that began 'Weep for the moon, for the moon has no reason to glow now, / Weep for the rose, for the rose has no reason to grow now, / The river won't flow now, / As I lay me down to weep', asked Parish to write a new lyric to his melody: the result was Miller's theme song, 'Moonlight Serenade'.

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1900, Parish was educated at both Columbia and New York universities. Although he had been writing verse since junior high school, he wanted a career in medicine, and was working at New York Hospital when a doctor showed some of his poetry to Joe Morris, a music publisher. Parish was 21 when his first song, 'Carolina Rolling Stone', was published.

His first standard was 'Sweet Lorraine' in 1928. The melody was originally a popular piano composition by Rudy Vallee's pianist Cliff Burwell. For the rest of his long career, Parish specialised in setting words to instrumentals. Ellington's 'Sophisticated Lady', Edgar Sampson's 'Don't Be That Way', Peter De Rose's 'Deep Purple' and Leroy Anderson's 'Belle of the Ball', 'Sleigh Ride', 'Forgotten Dreams', 'Blue Tango', 'Syncopated Clock' and 'Serenata' were all instrumental pieces before Parish fashioned them into songs.

'Stardust' was no exception; it started out as a quick-tempo piano piece, was later slowed down and featured with some success by the Isham Jones band, and finally fitted out with words in 1931. At the height of its popularity 'Stardust' made musical history when it was recorded on both sides of a 78 - Benny Goodman's band on one side, Tommy Dorsey's on the flip-side. More history was made when Frank Sinatra recorded just the verse ('And now the purple glow of twilight time . . .'). There have been over 500 recordings of the song.

Parish finally gained some attention in 1987, when New York saw Stardust, a revue that brought his best- known songs to the stage.