One of the best and most prolific of Broadway and motion picture composers, Harold Arlen could boast a true "Jazz Singer" background. His father was a cantor in a synagogue, and Arlen made his performing debut singing with his dad during the High Holy Days. Any plans to follow in father's footsteps were forgotten when Arlen went into professional show business at 15, playing the piano for a vaudeville musical trio. The years of barnstorming paid off in 1928 when Arlen's song "Get Happy," first performed in The 9:15 Revue, scored a hit. Among Arlen's best-known collaborators during his busiest movie years were Johnny Mercer (Star-Spangled Rhythm), Ira Gershwin (the 1954 version of A Star is Born) and E. Y. Harburg (The Wizard of Oz). Harold Arlen's string of hits for both Broadway and Hollywood include "Stormy Weather," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "Blues in the Night," "That Old Black Magic," "One for My Baby," "Accen-tu-ate the Positive," and of course the Academy Award-winning "Over the Rainbow."
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Son of a Jewish cantor, he quickly learned piano at home and sang in the local synagogue, but preferred popular music to the classical melodies and operas heard on his parents' Victrola. By age 15 dropped out of school, played piano professionally and formed a successful group, the Snappy Trio. Although an established and prolific composer for Broadway and Hollywood, he preferred performing, and recorded many renditions of his own work. "Over the Rainbow," voted the No. 1 song of the 20th century by the music industry and the National Endowment for the Arts, was initially removed by studio heads from The Wizard of Oz. Collaborated with notable lyricists Ted Koehler, E.Y. Harburg, Johnny Mercer and Ira Gershwin. The composition of the song "The Man That Got Away" (written for Judy Garland in A Star Is Born) coincided with the death of his father.