Harold Arlen was born on this very day, February 15th, in 1905. He was not gay, but rather important to gay culture for writing a certain special song. For me, after Stephen Sondheim, Arlen is our greatest composer of theatre & film musicals.
Arlen composed over 500 songs, but is best known for writing the songs for The Wizard of Oz, including Over The Rainbow, named #1 of the "Songs of the Century" list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America & the National Endowment for the Arts. The American Film Institute also ranked Over The Rainbow the greatest movie song of all time on the list of AFI's 100 Years:100 Songs. It was adopted by American troops in Europe in World War II as a symbol of the USA.
Arlen is one of the most important contributors to the Great American Songbook. His Broadway shows include: Hooray for What!, Bloomer Girl, St. Louis Woman, House Of Flowers, Mr. Imperium, Jamaica, & Saratoga.
Arlen wrote extraordinarily complex melodies & harmonies that somehow remained accessible to a broad popular audience. He collaborated with the greatest of the Tin Pan Alley lyricists: E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Johnny Mercer, Ted Koehler, Leo Robin, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Fields & Truman Capote.
Arlen also acted producer of some of the greatest film musicals of the Golden era: The Wizard of Oz, Let’s Fall In Love, Blues In the Night, Star Spangled Rhythm, Cabin In the Sky, Up in Arms, Kismet, My Blue Heaven, Gay Purr-ee, & Judy Garland’s version of A Star Is Born.
The Arlen catalog boast the standards: Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea, I Got A Right To Sing the Blues, Stormy Weather, Fun To Be Fooled, Last Night When We Were Young, Blues in The Night, That Old Black Magic, Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe, One For My Baby, Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, Out Of This World, Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home, Come Rain Or Come Shine, The Man That Got Away, It’s Only A Paper Moon, I’ve Got The World On A String.
For all his work writing smart songs for 6 decades, the standout of his legacy continues to be the unforgettable score for the 1939 ‘s The Wizard Of Oz. Even that score reflects Arlen’s true loves: jazz & blues. Listen to how swingin’ Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead can be.
Try Ella Fitzgerald’s 2 volumes- Ella Sings The Harold Arlen Songbook from 1960, on Verve.
Besides Over The Rainbow, of course, my favorite Arlen tune is probably the greatest salon song of all time- One For My Baby, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.