Boogie Down to Indy, the Other 'Music City'
Byline: Mike Michaelson
A gaudy Wurlitzer jukebox glowing with bright neon plays Fred Astaire's version of Cole Porter's "Night and Day." A couple sways to the music as the talented hoofer - who also could carry a tune - chirps the lyrics.
The venue for this music and dancing is, of all places, the museum of the Indiana Historical Society (surely a first for a historical museum). An entire room is devoted to Hoosier hero Porter. Next up on the jukebox is another rendition of the same classic, this time by U2.
"People often are surprised at the contemporary artists who are doing Cole Porter," says Faith Revell, director of exhibitions. It marks the lasting appeal of Porter's music.
You'll learn as you tour the museum, and visit other attractions around town, that it's not just New Orleans, Chicago and Nashville that are America's "music cities." Indianapolis stakes a claim, too.
Indy has strong roots in jazz and ragtime and associations with prominent Hoosiers who became music legends, including Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, John Mellencamp, Wes Montgomery and Scatman Crothers. In the 1940s, Indiana Avenue was filled with jazz clubs and the neighborhood became a magnet for homegrown talent and visiting jazz greats. To this day, the city offers a good selection of clubs and other music venues.
Visit the museum's Stardust Terrace Cafe and you're quickly immersed in the world of music. Seated at an upright piano is a life-size cutout of composer/musician Carmichael (1899-1981), another extraordinarily talented Hoosier who left his mark on the worlds of music and entertainment.
Memorabilia from his career includes the Oscar he won for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" and a blown-up sheet-music cover for "Ole Buttermilk Sky," an Oscar-nominated song written with Jack Brooks for the 1946 motion picture "Canyon Passage."
Surrounded by this Carmichael memorabilia, it's easy to picture Hoagy's easy mannered style in such movies as "To Have and Have Not" and "Young Man With a Horn." Inevitably, there was a hat jammed on the back of his head and a cigarette dangling from his lips as he caressed the ivories, singing in a folksy, husky drawl.
Also on display at the cafe are cutouts of Noble Sissle and Russell Smith from the 1924 Broadway musical "Chocolate Dandies," and a narrative about the emergence of ragtime that began in the 1870s when blacks began to syncopate (or "rag") familiar tunes, initially with lots of racial overtones.
It shows how by 1910 this racial stigma had largely evaporated and ragtime was widely accepted as a musical genre. Displayed is ragtime cover art from "Scarecrow Rag," "That Eccentric Rag," "Hoosier Rag" and "The Demon Rag."
Climbing the stairs from the cafe, you might be tempted to hum the haunting melody of Hoagy's evergreen classic, the eponymous "Stardust." If you feel like singing it (hopefully to yourself), no need to worry about remembering the lyrics. They are written on each step.
Soon, though, the music takes a different beat as Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane perform "Begin the Beguine" courtesy of the CD jukebox in the Cole Porter Music Room. This room and adjoining showcases are crammed with memorabilia that traces the life and career of the man who composed more than 800 songs.
There are childhood pictures that show the privileged life Porter was born to in 1891 in Peru, Ind. One shows him with a violin, which he learned to play, along with the piano, at age 6. The exhibition chronicles his years at Yale and Harvard Law School, and the exotic travel that lent depth and perspective to his music.
You'll learn that the urbane, witty Porter, a determined social climber, made himself the life of countless parties as he accompanied himself on the piano, performing songs with clever, amusing lyrics, such as "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love). …