The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
The Nearness of You

The Nearness of You

#133 / Oct. 14 Podcast

Nowadays “The Nearness of You” often conjures a mental image of 21st century song stylist Norah Jones. And, indeed, Jones did release a gorgeous rendition of the song in 2001, leading some to think that she wrote it. Actually, though, the tune is twice Norah’s age.

Hoagy Carmichael wrote the song in 1938, originally intending it for an odd little movie project.

In his Carmichael biography Stardust Melody, Richard H. Sudhalter reports that Hoagy dashed off the yet-unnamed melody for “a screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ featuring a 15-year-old Mickey Rooney as Puck,” but that production fell through.

Then with lyrics from Ned Washington, the composition became “The Nearness of You” and was scheduled for inclusion in the feature film Romance in the Rough. However, that film, too, was never produced.

Celluloid Confusion

There is some celluloid confusion about the song’s place in films. Sudhalter notes that despite accounts to the contrary, “The Nearness of You” was never scheduled to be included in the 1938 Paramount film, Romance in the Dark, starring John Boles, Gladys Swarthout and John Barrymore.

Probably because of the similar titles — Romance in the Rough vs. Romance in the Dark — writers often have mistakenly credited the introduction of “The Nearness of You” to Swarthout in Romance in the Dark. That error is recorded in at least one reference book, numerous sheet music books and nowadays on hundreds of websites.


In reality, after the Hollywood false stops, the song had to wait for republication in 1940 to win its place as a beloved jazz standard. That was the year Glenn Miller and his Orchestra introduced a recording of “The Nearness of You” with vocals by Ray Eberle.

The Bluebird label recording appeared on the pop charts at the end of June and remained there for 11 weeks, peaking at No. 5.

In 1953 the song charted again, this time with Bob Manning singing with Monty Kelly and His Orchestra. His recording climb the charts to No. 16. Since then, the tune has been recorded dozens of times, by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to James Taylor, Barbra Streisand, Etta James and Seal.

Dueling Pundits

It’s fun how the critics have differed wildly in their comments about this particular Carmichael creation. For instance, in his book American Popular Songs: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, Alec Wilder called the song “simple and unclever,” adding that it is “the sort of song that an academic musical mind would sneer at.”

As if to answer that challenge, Yale University music professor Allen Forte devoted no fewer than five pages to the song in his book Listening to Classic American Popular Songs. Forte called it “unusual,” “remarkable,” and “striking,” and even offering an effusive “Congratulations, Hoagy!” for Carmichael’s slightly concealed replication of the refrain’s opening phrase in the verse.

Our Take on the Tune

This tune really hasn’t made The Flood set list yet — we’ve only just started working with it — but it sure seems like it wants to settle down with us. Listen to everybody listening to everybody else.

For instance, check out how midway through, Veezy’s solo establishes a lovely mood that Danny beautifully echos when he takes his turn. Yeah, it’s not a regular Floodified number yet, but stay tuned.

More Ballads

By the way, if softer sounds are what your day is calling for, we’ve got the play list for you! Tune into the Ballads Channel of the free Radio Floodango music streaming service for the tunes for your mood.

The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: