A powerful tribute to the legendary Hoagy Carmichael
It is one of those quarantine days! I have a long list of interviews to take, stories to write, people to virtually meet, chores to accomplish, too many thoughts dancing on my mind, and lessons to teach to all my three children. As for me, I am learning my lessons every day. Whenever I take a corner in my cyber life, so to say, I bump into somebody that I would like to know better. I am not talking about my family; they are always hanging on my lap. I am referring to people with meaningful life stories. Thanks to God, the pool is full, I only have to open my heart.
Not too long ago, I asked a well-known musician in Chicago, Bucky Halker, to send me his newest musical project. I am referring to an illustrated book and CD featuring children’s songs by the legendary songwriter Hoagy Carmichael. A young friend of mine is part of it, and I wanted to find out more.
Chicago Kids Play and Sing Hoagy (2020), is not a re-issue of the song-book that legendary Hoagy Carmichael had written in the 1950s, but rather a reimagination of it, putting the creation in the actual context, with new, original illustration, and unique musical arrangements. Listening to both versions, the differences can be easily revealed. I would say the producers found a way to bring the book up to date. More than that, Halker takes the children to the show. He puts them all in the limelight: children of all ages, from 0 to 75. I completely resonate with this idea. What kind of children’s book is that, which the adults would not like? This is my perfect world. Thus, as Bucky Halker says in the preface of the book: “I wanted to use both children and adults for the project (…) I felt the project would be a perfect way to highlight the musical talents of children, to involve them in a collaborative effort with professional adult musicians in a recording studio, and to include a range of Chicago’s stylistic and musical traditions.”
Bucky Halker trusted me and sent me a package when I least expected it. On a warm, steady evening.
After putting my children to bed, I opened it, and I was nicely surprised by the naturalness of a handwritten message. This gesture told me something about Bucky Halker, besides the fact that he ditched the printer or “the proper stationery,” as he said. This gesture made me think about him as somebody who was not caught in the rollercoaster of this world, who gives himself time to reflect, to listen, to understand, and to share the beauty around us. “I had a great fun making this project, though it was far more work than anticipated. Of course, that is often the case”, he wrote to me. I was not in the studio, but seeing only the army of musicians involved in this endeavor, kids, and ‘kidz’ together, I would say it was more than Bucky modestly insinuated.
Why do we need to go back to Hoagy Carmichael? What do we know about him? Do we still remember the singer? These are just a few questions and I have so many others. I would be happy to meet Bucky and his wife Toni and have a long talk about American folk music.
Halker is best known for his work on labor protest songs, Illinois folk music, and his involvement with the preservation of Woody Guthrie’s musical legacy. More professional references to Bucky Halker find here.
I have not covered yet all about this project, but I will end this introduction with Halker’s remarks in Chicago Tribune: “No, not very surprisingly, none of the kids had ever heard of Carmichael. But they loved his songs.” Take this as an invitation to buy the illustrated book with the musical CD, and you can do it right here, using the “donate” button on the homepage: www.companyoffolk.org.
Laura Bandila Goldberger
Post Scriptum: There are fifteen children’s tracks on the CD, and the one who led me to Bucky Halker is the 12th one. A young Romanian friend from Chicago, Nicole Sandu, is the lead singer of this song. She is the one who told me about this project.