"Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought." - Yip Harburg
From Broadway to the Hollywood Hills, Harburg penned the words to many of America's favorite and most iconic tunes and worked with the country's leading famous composers: Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Burton Lane, Arthur Schwartz, and Jerome Kern. He created what the New York Times called "songs with distinctive touches of romantic imagination laced with his strong feelings of social justice." In addition, he wrote the lyrics for the Broadway show Bloomer Girl, Finian's Rainbow, and Jamaica. This short documentary gives a brief glimpse of lyricist Yip Harburg's life and works through interviews with his son, friends, and scholars.
Celebrated not only for his lyrical genius, Harburg became known as a staunch advocate for social justice, whether writing about the struggles of the working class, women's rights, or racial oppression. In 1932, he wrote 'Brother Can You Spare a Dime' for the Broadway revue Americana to music by Jay Gorney. The song immediately struck a chord with those reeling from the Great Depression and became a classic thanks to interpretations by Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, and Rudy Vallee.
Edgar Yipsel Harburg, better known as E.Y. or simply Yip Harburg, was born in 1986 in Manhattan's Lower East Side to a working-class Orthodox Jewish family of Russian ancestry. Although he took a keen interest in theater and poetry as a young teenager, he first established himself as a successful electric contractor. After his business went bankrupt during the Depression, Harburg's lifelong friend Ira Gershwin introduced him to the stage and film circles, where he quickly found success working as a lyricist.
His most recognized song is 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' the hit song from the ever-popular movie The Wizard of Oz, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Song. In 2003, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' was recognized as the number one film song of the 20th Century. Three years later, he died tragically in a car crash on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles while on his way to New York to receive the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. "Over the Rainbow" was a collaboration between Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen. Arlen and Harburg often worked together to create pieces. Let's mention a few other great classics like "It's Only a Paper Moon," "Evelina," or "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady." In the case of "Over the Rainbow," Harburg suggested the title and wrote the words before Arlen came up with a basic melody that Harburg helped change to a slower ballad.
Note from producers: This short documentary was originally part of a more extended project on Yip Harburb in 2019. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding and everything coming to a halt during the COVID pandemic, we ended up making this shorter piece, which still conveys the magic of Harburg's work and soul. We want to thank Yip's son Ernie Harburg and Bill Jersey for their early assistance on this project.