Posted by: Jim E | October 23, 2010

Buttermilk Sky…Movies…Musicals…And Such…

I mentioned Buttermilk Skies in the last post…and said I would return to that topic…well, here I am…and trailing along beside me is buttermilk sky…

Bet you don’t know anything about buttermilk skies…well, some of you do…I always thought it was a sky that was the color of buttermilk…kind of a yellow tint to the sky…I was so wrong…but the first question has to be…”What ever made you think about it in the first place???”…Well, one day an old song popped into my mind…it has been sung by many singers…from Willie Nelson to Frank Sinatra and many, many others…but the one who wrote it and sang it first was Hoagy Carmichael…he wrote or co-wrote many songs including…”Heart and Soul”…”Two Sleepy People”…”Stardust”…”Skylark” and one that Ray Charles made famous, “Georgia On My Mind”…all of these are considered “standards”…part of the Great American Songbook…

But the song that Hoagy Carmichael and Jack Brooks wrote that started me on the hunt was “Buttermilk Sky”…I found that “Buttermilk Sky” was nominated for an Academy Award for the best song of 1946…It was in the film “Canyon Passage”, with Dana Andrews, Susan Hayward and, of course, Hoagy Carmichael…it’s and old fashion western…Hoagy binds it together with music and mandolin…he wrote and sang four songs…one of them being “Buttermilk Sky”, it is wonderful…(I will attach the song and the last scene of the picture)…(and will attach the whole song later)…

That same year, 1946, a number of great movies were made…”It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart (known to all at Christmas time)…”The Best Years Of Our Lives” (a great movie about returning troops from WWII)…and “The Yearling” (still a wonderful tear-jerking film)…they are all still well-known and very good films…if you haven’t seen all of them please take the time to see them…

But the song that won the Academy Award in 1946 was not “Buttermilk Sky” but “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Sante Fe” from the musical “The Harvey Girls”…written by Johnny Mercer and sung by Judy Garland…it’s another wonderful, colorful movie…the song in the film is about 8 minutes long…one of the longest on record…and one of the interesting facts is, that with all the people in this number…it took Judy Garland only one take (and she didn’t get into the scene until 4 minutes go by)…if you think that is nothing…you don’t understand the process and you need to watch the entire scene to see what I mean…I’ll include it…

After I found out this information about the song “Buttermilk Sky” and saw the movie “Canyon Passage”…I still didn’t know what a “Buttermilk Sky” was…do you???…of course not…so here is the information we all need…and this will give you enough extra credit to take you through the rest of the day…heavens, this may take us through all next week!!!…and some day you will be able to look up at the sky, when others are around you, and say, “Ahem, we sure have a buttermilk sky tonight.”…and all will be blown away by your acumen…

The phrase “buttermilk sky” refers to a sky that is peppered with patches of mid-level altocumulus or high-level cirrocumulus clouds that tend to take on a globular appearance similar to the texture of cultured milk (on the East coast it is commonly referred to as a “mackerel sky”, as they line up resembling scales of that fish)…it often indicates the presence of atmospheric moisture and instability and may portend thunderstorm development…

Now the song has more meaning…as the star of the movie is going to finally ask his love interest to marry him…Hoagy sings…“Ole Buttermilk Sky…my little doggie and me…headin’ for the one I love…I’m gonna pop her the question, that question…I’m keepin’ my eye peeled on you…what’s the good word tonight?…are you going to be mellow tonight?…Keep me in mind tonight…keep brushin’ those clouds from sight…ole buttermilk sky, don’t fail me when I’m needin’ you most…hang a moon above her hitchin’ post…hitch me to the one I love”…enjoy the whole song…

Hoagy had a better idea about what a “Buttermilk Sky” is than most of us do…now, does a buttermilk sky always mean rain or storm?…no, the high clouds can come after a storm has gone by…but it is still a “Buttermilk Sky”…and Hoagy wrote this song just for the film “Canyon Passage”…with all this in mind…

And with all this in mind…you may go through life knowing what a “Buttermilk Sky” is…and the song…and the film…and the science behind it…don’t you feel better already???…(and I just can’t help it…I’m singing the song)…and one more picture of a “Buttermilk Sky”…



  1. My son and I discussed this song just this weekend when we saw a buttermilk sky as we drove on rt 95 in ct. That’s why I even found your site. We listened to it together but we both know the song. (He’s 17 and had it on his zune – so proud!) Our interpretation is that the singer, hoagy, is hoping for a clear night with a bright moon to ask his girl to marry him. As with many Carmichael songs they are self contained stories of love, discovery and struggle. Listen to Hong Kong blues, the old music master and the jungle dream epic (the original) monkey song (not the abba zabba one but the one about the jungle king who dreams about a monkey who can play the drums.)
    Anyway back to buttermilk sky – who doesn’t smile at the thought of being “happy as a Christmas tree!” Peace wherever you are. Smzt

    • Scott…Heavens, a 17 year old interested in that “old song”, you are a lucky man, he a lucky young man…but you know there are many today who are interested in the “Great American Songbook”…great stuff…thanks for coming along and commenting…Hoagy Carmichael was something…he wrote a boatload of songs, like so many of that time…and this was one of the best, though he had a huge number that are being sung even today…it’s funny you should write, a couple of days ago I was reminded of “Buttermilk Sky”…we heard the Willie Nelson version on the XM Radio…made me thing of Hoagy’s version, which I like the best and reminded me of this post and I think the one before…we are Minnesota transplants here in Arkansas…and today I feel just fine, Minnesota is having close to zero high temp, with -40 windchill…and tomorrow a high of -4 or something like that…so we will enjoy our warmer weather here in Arkansas…best to you and your son and all…it’s great to explore our past…end up scrounging up some great history as well as great music…thanks…Jim E…Oh, just for your thoughts…one of the Everly Brothers has a birthday yesterday, or was it the day before…a different take, but still part of the history of American music…enjoy…

      • I just posted your link on a FB feed from our local tv weatherman. He posted a pic sent in this morning . It was a beautiful pic of a Buttermilk Sky! But no one called it that. I did and only one other person recognized it as that.
        I love google because it found your link. This is a wonderful collection on the subject! Including the scientific explanation!
        I remember my sweet Mother singing the song! Great memories!
        And, I’m not a “spring chicken”! Haha
        Thanks again!

      • Norma…thanks for the comment…amazing how many times this post is “hit” on Google…buttermilk sky is still a wonder to many, I guess…and it isn’t a one time thing, it happens many times during the year…I look up and “call it what it is”…”Look at the Buttermilk sky tonight.”…and the song, so good…hope your weatherman enjoyed your comeback…maybe it is the first time he has heard of a “Buttermilk sky”…well, thanks again…have a great rest of the summer…Jim E

  2. Well, this little blog essay could become a classic. I’m a blogger myself, and there are a few that are about something rare enough that they get hits many years after writing them.

    Today, in N. San Diego, I was playing tennis with some 25 people in the whole crowd and we had a perfect, evocative buttermilk sky, really beautiful, and as the word came to mind, I realized there was only one other person my age (born 1940) there who would know the song. I waited until we were both between sets, and we reminisced for a moment about when that song first evoked the simple pleasure of childhood.

    Thanks for writing this


    • Al…thanks for the comment…just the other day, someone posted a picture on Facebook…stating how beautiful the sky was at their place in Michigan…and the sky was a buttermilk sky…and I commented just, “a buttermilk sky”…and it got a response as well, I really don’t know how many people alive know the song or have ever heard it…maybe more than we know…anyway, thanks for the comment…Jim E

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