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Harold Arlen

February 15, 2018

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Harold Arlen (Hyman Arluck), the son of a cantor and a key contributor to the Great American Songbook, was born in Buffalo, NY, on this date in 1905. In addition to composing the score for The Wizard of Oz — including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (lyrics by Yip Harburg), which was voted the best song of the 20th century by the National Endowment for the Arts — Arlen wrote the music for “Let’s Fall in Love,” “Stormy Weather,” “Get Happy,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “My Blue Heaven,” and numerous other standards of popular music and jazz. Among his lyricists, in addition to Harburg, were Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Ted Koehler, and Jack Yellen. “Arlen’s sound also incorporated the Jewish wail and the wail of the blues,” wrote John Lahr in the New Yorker, and “it found its most eloquent expression in the mouths of black performers: Ethel Waters, Dooley Wilson, Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, and, especially, Lena Horne.” (Scroll down for a clip of Horne singing “Stormy Weather.”) Arlen was a shy and self-effacing man, which perhaps explains why, in Irving Berlin’s words, “he wasn’t as well known as some of us,” even though “he was a better songwriter than most of us.” Arlen died on April 23, 1986.

“Music doesn’t argue, discuss, or quarrel. It just breathes the air of freedom.” —Harold Arlen