On This Day (March 5) in 1981, Yip Harburg, the lyricist of “Over The Rainbow” passed away. Critics have ranked Judy Garland’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” as the Number One recording of the 20th century!
Yip put words to Harold Arlen’s music for “Over the Rainbow” for the movie The Wizard of Oz, for which he won an Academy Award for best original song. He also contributed much of the script for The Wizard of Oz, including the part where they give out the heart, the brains and the nerve. Unbelievably, the song was deleted (and later thankfully reinserted) from the film after a preview because MGM chief executive Louis B. Mayer thought it “slowed down the picture”!
Yip also wrote the lyrics to the standards “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, “April in Paris”, and “It’s Only a Paper Moon”, as well as all of the songs in The Wizard of Oz. He was known for the social commentary of his lyrics, championing racial and gender equality and union politics.
Tragically, although never a member of the Communist Party, he was falsely accused and blacklisted in McCarthy’s fake communist witch hunt of the 1950s. He refused to identify other reputed communists, which led to him being blocked from working in Hollywood films, television, and radio for twelve full years, from 1950 to 1962! He was also unable to travel abroad during this period, as his passport had been revoked. What a travesty for a person who gave voice to our thoughts about there being a place “where troubles melt like lemon drops” and “our dreams really do come true.”
I learned this piano arrangement from one of the great jazz pianists, George Shearing. Shearing was born blind and started learning the piano at age three, another prodigy. This arrangement includes many alternative chord voicings that are distinct to his playing style.
I hope you enjoy this version of one of popular music’s most instantly recognizable melodies.