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A Film by Michael Kantor


Composers, Lyricists & Writers

Harold Arlen

Harold Arlen is best remembered for the melodies to such popular tunes as “Stormy Weather,” “Get Happy,” “That Old Black Magic,” and “Over the Rainbow.” A pianist from the age of nine, Arlen formed the Snappy Trio at the age of fifteen and performed professionally in Buffalo cafes and on boats. Eventually he moved to New York City, became rehearsal pianist for a musical in 1929, and wrote his first hit. “Get Happy” was originally an improvisation Arlen launched into to relieve the boredom of having to repeat the show songs while the singers polished their performance. Soon Arlen, with his lyricist, Ted Koehler, was working on the famous Cotton Club revues and establishing a reputation as “the foremost writer of Negro tunes” with “Stormy Weather,” “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and “I Love a Parade.” Several of his jazz- and blues-influenced tunes became closely identified with the singers who sang them — Judy Garland and “Over the Rainbow,” Frank Sinatra and “Last Night When We Were Young,” and Ethel Waters and “Stormy Weather.”

Harold Arlen

Born: February 15, 1905
Died: April 23, 1986
Key Shows
  • "Bloomer Girl"
  • "Earl Carroll Vanities"
  • "Hooray for What!"
  • "House of Flowers"
  • "Life Begins at 8:40"
  • "St. Louis Woman"
Related Artists
  • Irving Berlin
  • Ira Gershwin
  • George Gershwin
  • E.Y."Yip" Harburg
  • Bert Lahr
  • Ethel Waters

Much of Arlen’s music was written for plays or movies. The 1939 film classic THE WIZARD OF OZ was among his most famous projects, featuring the Academy Award-winning “Over the Rainbow.” In all, Arlen wrote the music for 25 films, 10 Broadway shows, and more than 100 songs. His lyricists included Koehler, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, and E. Y. Harburg, the lyricist for THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Source: Excerpted from CONTEMPORARY NEWSMAKERS 1986, ISSUE CUMULATION, Gale Research, © 1987 Gale Research. Reprinted by permission of The Gale Group.

Photo credits: Photofest and the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection (LC-USZ62-103724 DLC).