Remembering the great composer/songwriter Harold Arlen on the day of his death 25 years ago.
Born Hyman Arluck in 1905, Arlen’s twin brother died in childbirth. His father was a cantor in Buffalo, N.Y., but Arlen’s musical interests ran more to new-fangled jazz than traditional religious. He began his career as Hyman Arluck, changed to Harold Arluck and then to Harold Arlen.
His songs included Get Happy, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Stormy Weather, Let’s Fall in Love, Blues in the Night, That Old Black Magic and the soundtrack to the Wizard of Oz, including the song voted the best of the 20th century, Somewhere Over the Rainbow (early in his career Arlen lived with Ray Bolger, who played The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz).
His writing partners included Johnny Mercer, Truman Capote, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, Ira Gershwin and Ted Koehler; his music has been the subject of albums from vocalist Ella Fitzgerald to pianists Oscar Peterson and Kenny Drew.
Arlen perhaps wasn’t as famous as his music. The website Haroldarlen.com tells the anecdote of Arlen riding with a cabby who happily whistled Arlen’s composition Stormy Weather. When Arlen asked him if he knew who wrote it, the cabby confidently guessed Irving Berlin, then Cole Porter. When told it was written by his fare, Harold Arlen, the cabby said: “Who?”
Arlen’s interest waned after the death of his wife, Anya, in 1970. He was 81 when he died in 1986 at his New York apartment.
Harry Belafonte, from Haroldarlen.com: “I consider Harold Arlen one of the three great geniuses of American music — the other two, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein . . .”
Source: Haroldarlen.com, from the book Harold Arlen: Happy With the Blues by Edward Jablonski