Harold Arlen (born Hyman Arluck; February 15, 1905 – April 23, 1986) was an American composer of popular music, who composed over 500 songs, a number of which have become known worldwide. In addition to composing the songs for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz (lyrics by Yip Harburg), including “Over the Rainbow“, Arlen is a highly regarded contributor to the Great American Songbook. “Over the Rainbow” was voted the 20th century’s No. 1 song by the RIAA and the NEA.
Arlen was born in Buffalo, New York, the child of a Jewish cantor. His twin brother died the next day. He learned to play the piano as a youth, and formed a band as a young man. He achieved some local success as a pianist and singer before moving to New York City in his early twenties, where he worked as an accompanist in vaudeville and changed his name to Harold Arlen. Between 1926 and about 1934, Arlen appeared occasionally as a band vocalist on records by The Buffalodians, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Leo Reisman, and Eddie Duchin, usually singing his own compositions.
In 1929, Arlen composed his first well-known 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.
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