Piano, composer, arranger, vocalist
For more than a century, a large number of immigrant Jews from Poland, Germany and Russia fled to the United States to avoid persecution. Many a son of a Jewish cantor became a singing star, or one of America’s top lyricists and composers. Harold Arlen was such an example. He was the son of immigrants from the Vilna section of Poland, who wrote many of the top musical “standards” that will remain the favorite music of many generations. Born Hyman Arluck on February 15, 1905 to Samuel Arluck and Celia Orlin, he changed his name after he quit high school and began to perform professionally.
Arlen first learned to sing in his father’s synagogue choir but most of his musical training and background was gained from his mother. By the time he was seven, he was regularly singing in Buffalo’s Pine Street synagogue choir. At nine he studied piano with Arnold Cornelisson, who was an organist, composer and conductor of the Buffalo String Orchestral Society.
Arlen dropped out of Hutchinson Central High School and later Technical High School when he was sixteen. Afterwards, he began to earn his living playing the piano in silent movie houses as well as performing in a vaudeville act. He formed the Snappy Trio with two other teenagers and regularly performed in the brothel district in Buffalo. Two additional members were added and the group was renamed the Southbound Shufflers. The group was hired to play on Great Lakes’steamers. He was soon asked to joined the Yankee Six, another dance band that soon grew to twelve pieces and later renamed The Buffalodians. He served as the band’s arranger, pianist, and sometimes singer. The Buffalodians became a favorite of the area townspeople and their engagements took them to downtown ballroom restaurants as well as college and other societal functions. Th group became so popular, they appeared in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. In 1925, they were given the opportunity to perform at various Broadway clubs in New York City
Arien was noticed by Broadway and popular music composer Vincent Youmans, who gave him a part in the 1929 musical “Great Day” as rehearsal pianist. . It was there that Arlen established a long time collaboration with composer and lyric writer Ted Koehler. During a rehearsal they combined to write “Get Happy” and soon convinced the financial backers of the program that Arlen had great potential as a songwriter. “Get Happy” was subsequently used in 9:15 Revue and was made a major hit by singer Ruth Etting in 1930. “Get Happy,” Arlen’s first song, still remains a standard today.
In the early thirties, Arlen joined the music publishing house of J. H. Remick and also recorded as a vocalist
Born Hyman Arluck, February 15, 1905 Buffalo, NY, (died April 23, 1986 New York, NY of Parkinson’s disease); son of Samuel Arluck, a Jewish cantor and Celia (born Orlin); married Anya (died March 9, 1973); children: Samuel Arlen. Education: Studied piano with Arnold Cornelisson, Conductor of the Buffalo String Orchestral Society
Made his debut as a rehearsal pianist on Broadway in 1929 in the show Great Dax; employed as a songwriter for the J. H. Remick Publishing Company early 1930s; worked as a singer with notables such as Benny Goodman, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti and Eddie Duchin; wrote musical scores for Broadway and film scores for Hollywood including The Wizard of Oz, 1939; At the Circus, 1939; Up in Arms, 1944; A Star is Born, 1954; The Country Girl, 1954; and Gay Purr-ee, 1961; later returned to Broadway; credited with having composed over thirty standards.
Awards: Academy Award for Best Song, “Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz, 1939; received ASCAP/Richard Rodgers Award for distinguished contributions to the musical theater; inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame.
with the big bands fo Joe Venuti, Eddie Duchin, Red Nichols, and Benny Goodman. He continued his collaboration with Ted Koehler and they combined to write revues for New York’s Cotton Club. Arien also served as the club’s musical director. Classic standards were introduced during this time including, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” “Stormy Weather,” “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues,” “I Love a Parade,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “Kickin the Gong Around.” “Stormy Weather” was received so favorably, it led to Arlen receiving his first film contract.
Arlen wrote the music forthree Broadway musicals from 1930–34. He departed for Hollywood where he continued for a decade to concentrate on motion pictures with the exception of one Broadway show”Hoorayfor What?”. In Hollywood, he began his new collaboration with Johnny Mercer and they received Academy Award nominations for “Blues in the Night,” “That Old Black Magic,” “and ’My Shining Hour.” One of Arlen finest screen songs was “Last Night When We Were Young” and was written for the motion picture “Metropolitan” with lyrics written by Harburg. But the song was deleted as a vocal number and used instrumentally as background music. In later years it was recorded by Judy Garland and other vocalists but did not become a major hit until the 1950’s when Frank Sinatra released it on the Capitol Record label.
On January 8, 1937, Harold Arlen married a former Powers model and show girl, Anya “Annie” Taranda, who had previously appeared in the 1932 edition of “Earl Carroll’s Vanities.” The wedding was held the day after he had handed hera note telling herthat they were getting married the next day and didn’t she think it was about time. He was a dapper figure and often was seen dressed sporting a cane as well as a flower in his buttonhole. The New York Times reported that, “he was known to get his ideas for songs in many places, while being driven in Los Angeles or while strolling around the Central Park Reservoir with his dog”.
In 1939, Arlen was hired by Arthur Freed of MGM and joined E. Y. “Yip” Harburg for his biggest film success, The Wizard of Oz. The film featured such songs as “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” and it’s most famous song, “Over the Rainbow,”. Arlen and Harburg were given a two month window to complete the score before filming and many years later he expressed how troubled he had been with the short amount of time to complete the musical score. In his biography of Harold Arlen, Edward Jablonski revealed that “Over the Rainbow” had come to Arlen “out of the blue” when Arlen and his wife had driven to a Graumann’s Chinese movie theater on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. She drove because he was too worried that he had not yet written a ballad for the film. When they reached a spot where the original Schwab’s Drug Store was, the long lined melody came to Arlen. He quickly jotted it down in the car and the next day wrote both the bridge and the middle and presented it to Harburg to complete.
Harburg disliked it and remarked, “that’s for Nelson Eddy and not for a little girl from Kansas.” With advice from songwriter Ira Gershwin, Harburg changed it to a quicker tempo and a thinner harmonic texture and titled the song “Overthe Rainbow.” “Overthe Rainbow” was presented to executives at Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (MGM); they remained largely unenthusiastic and three times tried to have the song cut from the motion picture. But each time producer Arthur Freed insisted the song be restored to the film. “Over the Rainbow” t received the Academy Award for best song in 1939. It also became a huge hit and signature song for fourteen year old Judy Garland. In 1963, “Over the Rainbow” was one of sixteen songs selected by the American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers (ASCAP) as being one of the top songs of the first half of the twentieth century. Eileen Farrell sang it on the soundtrack of “Interrupted Melody” in 1955 and a decade later it was again used in the Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) motion picture “Patch of Blue” that starred Sidney Poitier and Shelley Winters.
In 1941, Arlen and Savannah, Georgia native Johnny Mercer, and the grandson of a Conf ederateArmy Colonel joined forces to write “Blues in the Night” for the film by the same name. It was a huge success and was vocalist Dinah Shore’s first recording to sell over a million copies. It appeared on “Your Hit Parade” for 13 weeks, twice in the number one position. “Blues in the Night” was also nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to Jerome Kern’s and Oscar Hammerstein ll’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris”. Kern strongly felt that Arlen’s song should have won the Academy Award and influenced the Academy’s governing body to change the laws governing the nomination of songs. He was so successful that future considerations included focus on songs written for motion picture screen plays.
In 1942 Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote “That Old Black Magic” for Broadway’s Star Spangled Rhythm. The song became popularized by Billy Daniels and sold over two million copies. By 1943, “That Old Black Magic” had been recorded by many orchestras and vocalists including Charlie Barnet, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Fred Waring and Margaret Whiting. That same year it appeared on the Hit Parade fifteen times and has been performed in many motion pictures including Here Comes the Waves in 1944, Meet Danny Wilson in 1952, Bus Stop in 1956. In 1958, Louis Prima/Keely Smith recorded the song and it received aGrammy Award.
1943 brought another standard to the popular music field when Arlen and Mercer again combined to write “One For My Baby” (And One More For the Road) for the Fred Astaire starred motion picture The Sky’s the Limit. Frank Sinatra recorded it three different times and he sang it in the motion picture Young at Heart. It was also a major hit for Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Fred Astaire, and Johnny Mercer. Lena Home also made it a regular selection in her performances.
Arlen again teamed with Koehler for the 1944 Oscar nominee “Now I Know.” He returned to Broadway on October 5, 1944 and worked with Harburg. Bloomer Girl was introduced at the Shubert Theater with Arlen completing the musical score. The show ran for over 650 performances and starred Celeste Holm, Dooley Wilson and David Brooks. Bloomer Girl was followed by two additional shows that both flopped including St. Louis Woman with Johnny Mercer. It was originally planned as a folk play using an all black cast but was rewritten and became a melodrama that concentrated on the affair of a jockey and a St. Louis woman, for whose love for her drives him to murder. “Come Rain or Come Shine” came out of the play and remains a standard today.
Arlen continued to concentrate on Broadway but never fully abandoned Hollywood and he received Academy Award nominations for “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” in 1944 with Mercer, “For Every Man There’s a Woman” with Leo Robin in 1948, and “The Man That Got Away” with Ira Gershwin in 1954 . “The latter, a bluesy ballad Judy Garland performed in the remake of A Star is Born, was another classic song Arlen wrote for the silver screen. It proved to be Garland’s second signature song and was frequently included in her repertoire that also included Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.”
In 1959 his Broadway career came to an end with the failure of Saratoga. The cast was comprised of some of Broadway’s finest with Howard Keel and Carol Lawrence in the leading roles and ran for only 80 performances before the lights dimmed for good. New York theatercritic John Chapman wrote “My suggestion for the best enjoyment of Saratoga is that you stop trying to follow the plot before it starts and concentrate on the really good things.”
In addition to the “standards” listed throughout, additional classic compositions include: “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe”, “Hit The Road to Dreamland”, “I’ve Got A Right to Sing the Blues,” “III Wind,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Let’s Fall in Love”, and the lovely song “A Sleepin’ Bee” that is based on the Haitian folk belief from a story by novelist Truman Capote. All in all, Arlen composed music for over 25 films. He once confessed, “I wanted to be a singer. Never dreamed of songwriting.” Harold Arlen died on April 23, 1986; he suffered from Parkinson’s disease. On the day he was buried, it was reported by the New York Times that a strange phenomenon was sighted by several people: spectacular rainbows in the sky. “All the rainbow reporters mentioned two facts: that they hadn’t seen a rainbow in a long, long time and that April 25th was also the day that Harold Arlen was buried.”
Harold Sings Arlen, Columbia.
Harold Arlen: American Songbook Series-The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings, RD.
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arien Songbook - Volume I, Verve.
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arien Songbook - Volume II, Verve.
Lee Wiley Sings the Songs of Rodgers and Hart and Harold Arien, Audiophile.
Harold Arlen - American Negro Suite, Premier.
Peggy Lee: Love Held Lightly, Angel.
Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Harold Arlen, Concord.
Over the Rainbow:- The Music of Harold Arlen, DRG Records.
Eileen Farrell Sings Harold Arlen, Reference Recordings.
The Song is Harold Arlen, ASV Living Era.
Broadway Original Cast Recordings
St. Louis Women, Angel.
The Wizard of Oz, CBS Records.
The Wizard of Oz, Turner Classic Movies Rhino.
Star Spangled Rhythm, Sandy Hook.
A Star is Born, Columbia.
The Great Songs from the Cotton Club, Mobile Fidelity.
Rhythmic Moments (American Piano Volume IV), Premier.
Harold Sings Arlen, Columbia.
Selected Films with Songs by Harold Arlen
The Wizard of Oz, MGM/US Home Video, 1939.
At the Circus, MGM/UA Home Video, 1939.
Up in Arms, Embassy Home Entertainment, 1944.
A Star is Born, Warner Home Video, 1954.
The Country Girl, Paramount, 1954.
Gay Purr-ee, Warner Home Video, 1961.
Barrett, Mary Ellin, Irving Berlin, A Daughter’s Memoir, Simon & Schuster 1994.
Bennett, Tony, The Good Life, Pocket Books, 1998.
Bering, Rüdiger, Musicals, Barron’s Educational Series Inc., 1998.
Ewen, David, American Songwriters, H. W. Wilson and Company 1987.
Ewen, David, American Popular Songs: From the Revolutionary War to the Present, Random House, 1966.
Gammond, Peter, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music, Oxford University Press 1993.
Green, Stanley, Broadway Musicals, Show by Show, Hal Leonard Corporation, 1996.
Harrison, Nigel, Songwriters, A Biographical Dictionary with Discographies, McFarland and Company, 1998.
Jablonski, Edward, Harold Arlen, Rhythm, Rainbows and Blues, Northeastern University Press, 1996.
Lax, Roger and Frederick Smith, The Great Song Thesaurus, Oxford Univ. Press 1989.
Maltin, Leonard, Movie and Video Guide 1995, Penguin Books Ltd., 1994.
Musiker, Reuben and Naomi Musiker, Conductors and Composers of Popular Orchestral Music, Greenwood Press 1998.
Osborne, Jerry, Rockin Records, Osborne Publications 1999.
Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, St. Martin’s Press, 1966.
New York Times, April 24, 1986.
“HaroldArien,” www.mplcommunications.com/MBR/harold_arl, (September, 1999).
“Harold Arlen, Selections from The Wizard of OZ”, G. Schirmer, Inc., www.schirmer.com/composers/arlinwizard.html,.(September, 1999).
“Johnny Mercer Biography,” Johnny Mercer home page, www.johnnymercer.com, (September, 1999).
—Francis D. McKinley
From the time of his birth until he wrote the music to his first popular hit, "Get Happy," the growth of Harold Arlen (1905-1986) from cantor's son to jazz pianist, composer, and arranger could not have been better orchestrated if he wrote it himself.
Born in Buffalo, New York, on February 15, 1905, Harold Arlen (originally named Hyman Arluck) received his first introduction to music from his father, a cantor. As a youngster of seven, Arlen sang in his father's choir. Two years later, he began demonstrating his musical skill at the piano. He studied classical music and remained a student of classical piano etudes until 1917, when the jazz age introduced America to a new form of music. Arlen was immediately intrigued with this new style and was soon arranging songs and playing piano with his own group, the Snappy Trio. He assumed the leadership role, by arranging and performing numbers in a jazz format. He was also the vocalist.
The trio experienced immediate success and redefined themselves into a quintet, the Southbound Shufflers. The Shufflers entertained around the United States and across the border in Canada. Arlen's blossoming musical career quickly established him in the Buffalo music scene and, to his parents' dismay, he left school early to pursue a musical career. He was quickly absorbed into a popular local group, the Buffalodians, where his talents as pianist, vocalist, and arranger continued to define his future. It was not long before Arlen and his band were drawn to Broadway.
New York Beckons
In New York City, Arlen landed a singing role in Vincent Yourman's Broadway musical Great Day. When Yourman discovered the young actor's many talents, Arlen was quickly moved to a role behind the scenes where he played piano for the performers and arranged music for the shows. His stage career ended, but his composing and arranging career flourished. It was during this time that Arlen teamed up with Ted Koehler, a young lyricist, for what would prove to be a long and successful relationship. Sometimes referred to as the "melody man," Arlen penned tunes to Koehler's words. He churned out a successive string of hits including "Get Happy," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "I Love a Parade," and "I've Got the World on a String." In 1931, Arlen took his talents to the stage with his first Broadway show You Said It.
The Cotton Club Revues
The first Koehler/Arlen collaboration, Get Happy, was produced while working on Yourman's musical Great Day.. This tune was received with such enthusiasm by audiences that the duo quickly found new opportunities. In 1930, Arlen and Koehler joined Harlem's renowned Cotton Club. During the very productive years between 1930 and 1934 Koehler and Arlen produced many tunes for that club's revue that have become jazz and blues classics. One of the most popular performers at the Cotton Club, Cab Calloway, played and recorded such classics as "Trickeration," "Kickin' the Gong Around," "Without Rhythm," and "Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day." The durability of these songs can be seen in the continued popularity of Calloway's recordings that are still sold today.
The years at the Cotton Club were among Arlen's most prolific. Noteworthy tunes emerging during this era included "Ill Wind," "Blues in the Night," and the seductive "Stormy Weather." "Stormy Weather" became a wildly popular song and eventually a trademark of singer, Lena Horne. It led the creative team to venture into movies, where they experienced their first film success, Let's Fall in Love. This film classic cemented Arlen and Koehler's reputations on the West Coast, and the pair continued their successful collaboration in Hollywood through many more film classics.
While working in Hollywood, Arlen's style caught the attention of film producer, Arthur Freed. He signed Arlen to collaborate with lyricist E. Y. Harburg on a fantasy film. Both the movie-1939's The Wizard of Oz (1939)-and the musical score have remained popular for the greater part of a century. The best-known song from the score was "Over the Rainbow." It earned an Academy Award for the duo and became the hallmark song for the movie's star, Judy Garland. During his time in Hollywood, Arlen scored many other movies including Cabin in the Sky (1943) and A Star Is Born (1954).
The Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s was ruled by a small group of businessmen best known for creating the "star system." They decided who would be a star, based in large part on an individual's ability to draw movie-goers to the theatre. Composers did not fall into that category. While Arlen remained in demand for the next two decades, because of the star system he remained behind the scenes and enjoyed a quiet life as a composer of songs that others made famous. However, his work was continuous and he maintained a good income during his years in Hollywood. A quiet man who preferred time with his wife Anya, son Sam, and the family dogs, he was content with his golf, tennis, and swimming. Although not a household name, his prolific songwriting was responsible for helping make others in Hollywood famous.
Arlen's productive career spanned the jazz age of the 1920s through Hollywood's bountiful years of the 1930s and 1940s. His talent for scoring both movies and Broadway musicals placed him among the finest composers and arrangers of the time. His works on Broadway continued even after his move to the West Coast. They include Life Begins at 8:40 (1934), Hooray for What? (1937), Bloomer Girl (1944), St. Louis Woman (1946), Saratoga (1959), and House of Flowers (1954). During his long career, Arlen teamed with other well-known lyricists such as Johnny Mercer, writing such popular hits as "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive," "That Old Black Magic," and "Blues in the Night." In 1954, he wrote the music for the Broadway hit House of Flowers with author Truman Capote and in that same year he worked in Hollywood with Ira Gershwin on the film The Country Girl.
Arlen continued to work into the 1960s, although there were few opportunities that enticed him. This was a time when he produced lesser-known orchestral compositions such as "Mood in Six Minutes," "Hero Ballet," and "Minuet,"-each of which was scattered throughout various films and shows, but did not achieve the acclaim of his earlier compositions. Arlen enjoyed shedding his reputation as a blues composer, and took advantage of this time to further expand his talents.
High Praise from Peers
Arlen earned his place among such songwriting greats as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern. Praise from such peers was high indeed. Gershwin referred to him as "the most original of composers." Rodgers took this a step further, saying "I caught on pretty soon to his unusual harmonic structure and form" which was "his own and completely original." Among Arlen's favorite pieces was a little-known song titled "Last Night When We Were Young," a favorite of performers like Frank Sinatra.
Although his career seems to have followed a direct path from local popularity to Broadway to Hollywood, Arlen did not become a household name. Even at the peak of his career he chose to remain behind the scenes, satisfied to compose and arrange music for others to perform. Arlen left a portfolio of over 300 tunes, many of which are still played every day throughout the world. After his death in New York City on April 23, 1986, Irving Berlin summed up the life of this brilliant composer at an ASCAP tribute, saying: "He wasn't as well known as some of us, but he was a better songwriter than most of us and he will be missed by all of us." Arlen's music remains fresh and continues to be performed throughout the world.
Jablonski, Edward, Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues, Northeastern University Press, 1997.
Billboard, April 27, 1996.
Time, September 4, 1995.
Harold Arlen Biography, http://www.mplcommunications.com/mbr/haroldarlen/arlen/featuredbio.html (February 23, 1999). □
ARLEN, HAROLD (formerly Hyman Arluck ; 1905–1986), American composer and one of the country's most important songwriters. Born in Buffalo, New York, Arlen was the son of a ḥazzan. He sang in the synagogue choir and worked as a ragtime pianist, dance band arranger, and singer in nightclubs and on river steamers. He first gained recognition as a songwriter with Get Happy (1928). In 1934 he turned to musical comedy and film scores as well as songs, which exemplify the trend of blending jazz with popular idioms. From 1931 to 1959, he composed eight musicals and from 1934 to 1963, 20 film scores. His successes include: "Stormy Weather" (1933); the music for the film The Wizard of Oz (1939), including the Academy Award-winning song "Over the Rainbow"; Star-Spangled Rhythm (1943); "That Old Black Magic" (1944); and the music for the film Here Come the Waves (1944). His musicals included Bloomer Girl (1944), Country Girl (1954), Jamaica (1957), and Saratoga (1959).
Grove, s.v.; E. Jablonsky, Harold Arlen: Rhythms, Ram Bows and Blues, 1996.
[Amnon Shiloah (2nd ed.)]