Monday, February 15, 2010


Today would have been the 105th birthday of one of the greatest composers of all time: the one and only Harold Arlen. What an amazing life he had. After his dear wife passed away of a brain tumor in the 1970's, he wrote only one other song in fifteen years: the title tune of the short lived TV series "Paper Moon". In 1929, Harold Arlen composed his first well-known famous hit song: "Get Happy" (with lyrics by Ted Koehler). 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." Arlen continued to perform as a pianist and vocalist with some success, most notably on records with Leo Reisman's society dance orchestra. Harold Arlen's 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-Mayerto 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.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," "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" Harold Arlen composed 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". Today is also the birthday of Galileo and Susan B. Anthony as well as the official "President's Day" with all of the banks and schools and post offices closed. It's a beautiful sunny day and I am going to a Santa Monica dealership to apply for a job. Wish me luck.


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