Louis “Moondog” Hardin: New York’s spectacular blind composer
Louis “Moondog” Hardin (the musical Viking) brought a bizarreness to New York’s 6th Street.
- Louis Thomas “Moondog” Hardin was a blind musician who gained notoriety on the streets of New York.
- He went on to become a famous composer, a phenomenal performer, and a treasured face on 6th Street.
Have you ever heard of New York’s musical blind Viking, Louis Thomas “Moondog” Hardin? Although Hardin passed away in 1999, his legacy as a musician, composer, and performer has left a lasting mark on Manhattan. So, who was Moondog? How did he transform the musical landscape of New York?
Louis Thomas Hardin’s early years
Louis Thomas Hardin was born in Kansas in 1916 to a teacher and an Episcolopian minister. His family was frequently traveling through the Midwest when Hardin was young. His father also traded on Wyoming’s Arapaho reservation. Hardin was exposed to the beauty of Native American music early on. When he was given the opportunity to play tom-tom at an Arapaho dance, he fell in love with drumming.
When Hardin was 16, he lost his vision after accidentally picking up a live dynamite cap. After the incident, Hardin struggled with his faith. Although he was devastated by his vision loss, he was determined to pursue music. He went on to study the subject at the Iowa School for the Blind. He also received piano training from Bess Maxfield, which would shape his future in classical music.
Falling in love with music
At first, Hardin devoted himself to the study of classical music. He excelled in this genre. He received a scholarship to study at the Memphis Conservatory of Music in 1942. A year later, he relocated to New York, the American hub of artistic performance. Although he was new to the city, he spent a great amount of time outside of Carnegie Hall, listening to the tunes from within.
Eventually, the New York Philharmonic’s conductor, Artur Rodzinski, invited him to their rehearsals. At first, Hardin appreciated this practice, but he soon began to experience conflict with Carnegie Hall over his appearance. He grew out his hair and beard, making strangers draw parallels between him and Jesus. In an effort to separate himself from the Christian faith, he decided to try out a new attire: a Viking costume.
Hardin (who adopted the nickname “Moondog” after a moon-fixated family canine from childhood) began to dress like a Viking. This got him shunned from Carnegie Hall, but his street persona thrived. He became a recognizable face around New York, particularly on 6th avenue, where he frequently sold his sheet music, performed, or simply stood around in costume.
Developing his own style
What made Hardin so revolutionary? Despite his blindness, he performed on the streets and developed a variety of homemade reed instruments. He tested out his various creations around Manhattan. Throughout the 1950s, Hardin recorded several albums of his work, including an eclectic debut, Moondog and Friends.
He continued to gain notoriety for a variety of reasons, one of them being that he successfully sued radio host Alan Freed for naming his show Moondog‘s Rock and Roll Party and using on of Hardin’s compositions without credit. He began to gain commercial success between 1969 and 1971, earning the attention of Janis Joplin, Julie Andrews, and other mega-stars.
From spoken-word pieces to classical scores, Hardin spent years finding and developing his style as a composer. His music was featured in television/films and re-recorded by major artists. In 1974, Hardin disappeared from the streets of New York. After traveling to Germany to view a phenomenal performance of his work, he decided to stay in Europe.
His composing career flourished, both across the pond and in America. His absence was felt on 6th Street. In 1999, Hardin passed away in Germany. His compositions (and courage) are still honored within the music industry today.
A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:
Hardin’s music likely ended up on cassette tapes. Here is a little more information about this old-school format.
Hardin isn’t the only one who has expanded his mind with music. Music lessons, anyone?