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Harold Arlen Biography

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Harold Arlen (February 15, 1905 - April 23, 1986) was an American composer of popular music.

One of the greatest composers of 20th century popular music, with over 400 songs, a number of which have become known the world over and have become standards although few people would recognize the name of Harold Arlen as the songwriter. His 1938 song "Over the Rainbow” was voted the twentieth century's No. 1 song by the Recording Industry Association of America [1]. Arlen was a longtime friend and former roommate of actor Ray Bolger who would star in The Wizard of Oz in which "Over the Rainbow" became famous.

Arlen was born Hyman Arluck, in Buffalo, New York, the child of a Jewish cantor. His twin brother died the next day. He learned the piano as a youth and formed a band as a young man. He achieved some local success as a pianist and singer and moved to New York City in his early 20s. As this point, he changed his name to Harold Arlen. He performed on record with the "Buffalodians" orchestra, as well as those of Red Nichols, Henny Hendrickson and Arnold Johnson.

In 1929, Arlen composed his first well-known song: "Get Happy" (with lyrics by Ted Koehler). Throughout the early and mid-1930s, Arlen and Koehler wrote shows for the Cotton Club, a popular Harlem night club, as well as Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. Arlen also continued to perform with some success, most notably on records with Leo Reisman's society dance orchestra.

Arlen's compositions have always been popular with jazz musicians because of his facility at incorporating a blues feeling into conventional American popular songs.

Arlen and Koehler wrote the following hit songs during the early and mid-1930s:
  • "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea"
  • "I Love A Parade"
  • "I've Got the World on a String"
  • "I've Got A Right To Sing The Blues"
  • "It's Only a Paper Moon"
  • "Let's Fall in Love"
  • "Ill Wind"
  • "Stormy Weather"


In the mid-1930s, Arlen married, and spent increasingly more time in California, writing for movie musicals. It was at this time that he began working with lyricist Yip Harburg. In 1938, the team was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz. The most famous of these is the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for which they won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song.

In the 1940s, Arlen teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer, and continued with song hits "Blues in the Night" ("My Mama Done Tol' Me"), and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive".

1905 Harold Arlen (Hyman Arluck) is Born in Buffalo, New York

1920 (15) He formed his first professional band, Hyman Arluck's Snappy Trio.

1921 (16) Against his parent's wishes he left home.

1923 (18) With his new band - The Southbound Shufflers, performed on the Crystal Beach lake boat "Canadiana" during the summer of 1923.

1924 (19) Performed at Lake Shore Manor during the summer of 1924.

1924 (19) Wrote his first song, collaborating with friend Hyman Cheiffetz to write "My Gal, My Pal". Copyrighting the song as "My Gal, Won't You Please Come Back to Me?" and listed lyrics by Cheiffetz and music by Harold Arluck.

1925 (20) Makes his way to New York City with the group, The Buffalodians, with Arlen playing piano.

1926 (21) Had first published song, collaborating with Dick George to compose "Minor Gaff (Blues Fantasy)" under the name Harold Arluck.

1928 (23) Chaim (Life) (or Hyman) Arluck renames himself Harold Arlen, a name that combined his parents' surnames (his mother's maiden name was Orlin).

1929 (24) Landed a singing and acting role as Cokey Joe in the musical "The Great Day" 1929 (24) Composed his first well known song - (Get Happy) under the name Harold Arlen. 1929 (24) Signed a yearlong song writing contract with the George and Arthur Piantadosi firm.

1930-1934 (25-29) Wrote music for the Cotton Club.

1933 (28) At a party, along with partner Ted Koehler, wrote the major hit song "Stormy Weather"

1933 (28) Billboard heralded Shakespeare as the most prolific playwright in history, and Arlen as the most prolific composer.

1935 (30) Went back to California after being signed by Samuel Goldwyn to write songs for the film "Strike Me Pink"

1937 (32) Married 22-year-old Anya Taranda, a celebrated Powers Agency model and former Earl Carroll and Busby Berkeley showgirl, actress, and one of the Original "Breck Girls."

1938 (33) Hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz.

1938 (33) While driving along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and stopping in front of Schwab's Drugstore came up with the song "Over the Rainbow"

1941 (36) Wrote "Blues in the Night"

1943 (38) Wrote "My Shining Hour"

1944 (39) While driving with songwriter partner Johnny Mercer came up with the song "Accentuate the Positive".

1945 (40) In a single evenings work in October with Johnny Mercer came up with the song "Come Rain or Come Shine"

1949 (44) Collaborated with Ralph Blane to write the score for "My Blue Heaven".

1950 (45) Worked with old pal Johnny Mercer on the film "The Petty Girl", out of which came the song "Fancy Free".

1951 (46) His wife Anya was institutionalized in a sanitarium for 7 years after repeatedly threatening her husband and others with physical harm.

1952 (47) Teamed up with Dorothy Fields on the film "The Farmer Takes a Wife"

1953 (48) Harold's father, Cantor Samuel Arluck, died.

1954 (49) The Musical "A Star is Born" starring Judy Garland singing the now classic, Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin collaboration, "The Man That Got Away"

1954 (49) Becomes dangerously ill with a bleeding ulcer and is hospitalized but recovers to work with Truman Capote on the musical "House of Flowers".

1956 (51) His mother Celia Arluck dies and Harold doesn't touch music for over a year, mourning her loss.

1961-1976 (55-71) Wrote over 50 songs and continued a successful career.

1970 (65) His wife Anya Taranda dies from a brain tumor and Harold begins to lose interest in life and begins to withdraw from friends and even family and becomes more and more reclusive.

1986 (81) Harold Arlen dies in New York City and was interred next to his wife in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
 
 
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