One of the iconic moments of 20th century musical cinema occurred in 1939, when Judy Garland looked longingly skyward and began to sing Over The Rainbow in the film THE WIZARD OF OZ. This song, which has come to mean so much to so many millions of people across the world, is amongst the most popular and recorded songs ever written. And yet Harold Arlen, who wrote it with lyricist Edgar 'Yip' Harburg, is a relative unknown to today's public.
In his heyday Arlen, born Hyman Arluck, the son of a cantor, was regarded as at least an equal by the great songwriters of the period; names such as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Cole Porter; and he worked with many fine lyricists including Ted Koehler, the great Johnny Mercer and the aforementioned Harburg, creating many songs that have since become standards of the American songbook. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the wonderfully evocative Stormy Weather, from the 1933 show COTTON CLUB PARADE.
As a major contributor to the golden era of American songwriting between the two World Wars, Harold Arlen was undoubtedly one his country's truly great songwriters. The fact that his name is rarely mentioned today alongside the giants of that period remains something of a mystery.