Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today would have been Harold Arlen's birthday. Mr. "Stormy Weather" himself wrote over four hundred songs including the immortal "Over The Rainbow" which has been voted as the very best song of all time. The second picture on the page shows Harold playing the piano with such notables as a grown up Judy Garland.
In 1929 Harold Arlen composed his first well-known song: "Get Happy" (with lyrics by Ted Koehler). I love that song. Judy garland made it her own. Throughout the early and mid-1930s, Arlen and Koehler wrote shows for the Cotton Club, a popular Harlem night club, as well as for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. Arlen and Koehler's partnership resulted in a number of hit songs, including the familiar standards "Let's Fall in Love" and "Stormy Weather." Who hasn't sung that tune by a grand piano.? One of the great old standards! Harold continued to perform as a pianist and vocalist with some success, most notably on records with Leo Reisman's society dance orchestra. His compositions have always been popular with jazz musicians because of his facility at incorporating a blues feeling into the idiom of the conventional American popular song. In the mid-1930s, Arlen married, and spent increasing time in California, writing for movie musicals. It was at this time that he began working with lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. In 1938, the team was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz. The most famous of these is the song "Over the Rainbow" for which they won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. They also wrote "Down with Love", a song later featured in the 2003 movie Down with Love. Now a fact that I never knew and was just told about was the fact that Harold Arlen was a longtime friend and former roommate of actor Ray Bolger who would star in The Wizard of Oz, the film for which "Over the Rainbow" was written. In the 1940s, he teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer, and continued to write hit songs like "Blues in the Night", "That Old Black Magic," "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," (which was thought of while they were driving together in traffic one day-- Arlen complaining about all the bad drivers on the road and Mercer, the ever optimist saying "look on the bright side" which ultimately became "accentuate the positive" Together these two also wrote "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and the Frank Sinatra standard bearer "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" .Frank sang this time almost as often as he did "My Way" By the way, Harold Arlen was responsible for composing the two defining tunes which bookend Judy Garland's musical persona: as a yearning, innocent girl in "Over the Rainbow" and a world-weary, "chic chanteuse" with "The Man that Got Away". When a songwriter's talents can become the bookends of a singing legend that isn't too bad of an accomplishment. After Harold's wife died in a sanitarium, Arlen stopped writing songs much as Irving Berlin did when his second Broadway musical in a row flopped. How sad! Happy Birthday great song man. We will sing your songs forever!

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