Howard Hoagland Carmichael died in Rancho Mirage, California, on December 27, 1981. Although he had lived first in New York City and then in California since 1929, he chose to be buried next to his mother, father, and little sister Joanne in Bloomington.
Hoagy remained fond of his hometown and alma mater throughout his illustrious career. He frequently visited, donated money, and wrote commemorative songs. In 1937 he presented his “Chimes of Indiana” to Indiana University. When the football team won a place at the Rose Bowl in 1968, he wrote “To the Team,” which was performed by the IU Singing Hoosiers choir at several pre-game events. An accomplished amateur painter as well as a musician, Hoagy in the early 1970s executed a 5 foot by 7 foot painting of the “Constitution Elm” tree in Corydon, Indiana, a work that now hangs in the IU Memorial Union. His alma mater conveyed its appreciation of Hoagy’s achievements and loyalty by awarding him an honorary doctorate of music. That 1972 ceremony that coincided with the dedication of the university’s new Musical Arts Center, which his donations had helped fund.
After Hoagy’s death, the Musical Arts Center became the site of the January 4, 1982 memorial service for Bloomington’s favorite son. Hundreds of people attended the event. Hoagy’s coffin was surrounded by flowers sent by President Ronald Reagan, Senator Barry Goldwater, and his college fraternity, Kappa Sigma, among others. Former classmate, band member, and fellow Bent Eagle Howard “Wad” Allen spoke of their formative years playing hot jazz and carousing at the Book Nook, and a faculty band played a medley of Carmichael songs. The climax came when soprano Sylvia McNair sang a single chorus of “Star Dust,” with Charles H. Webb, Dean of the School of Music, accompanying her at the piano.
According to biographer Richard Sudhalter, many of Hoagy’s songs express the “idea of home, a place where wandering ceases and the heart comes to rest.” When Hoagy Carmichael returned to Bloomington in 1982 to lie beside his parents and little sister, he finally found that resting place.