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Arlen, Harold (originally, Hyman Arluck)

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Arlen, Harold (originally, Hyman Arluck), American composer, pianist, and singer; b. Buffalo, N.Y., Feb. 15, 1905; d. N.Y., April 23, 1986. Among the major song composers of the 1930s and 1940s, Arlen was the most overtly influenced by blues and jazz music. Dividing his time between N.Y. and Hollywood, he contributed to 15 Broadway stage shows and 33 feature films between 1930 and 1963. Among his best-remembered film scores are those for The Wizard of Oz, Cabin in the Sky, and A Star Is Born . He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song nine times, winning for “Over the Rainbow/” Among his other major hits drawn from films are “Blues in the Night,” “That Old Black Magic” and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.” Many of his most popular songs originated in the five nightclub revues he wrote for the Cotton Club from 1930 to 1934 with Ted Koehler, including “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “Stormy Weather.” His other major collaborators were E. Y Harburg, Ira Gershwin, and Johnny Mercer, and he also worked with Dorothy Fields, Ralph Blane, and Leo Robin, among others. The nature of his music made it popular with African-American performers such as Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, and Lena Horne, and many of his works were composed specifically with black performers in mind. But he also became a particular favorite of Judy Garland, who frequently sang his songs in her films and concerts, and Barbra Streisand, with whom he recorded an album late in his career.

Arlen was the son of Samuel S. and Celia Orlin Arluck. His father was a cantor, and Harold had his first experience in music at the age of seven, singing in a synagogue choir conducted by his father. He began private study on the piano at nine, including instruction from Arnold Cornelissen and Simon Bucharoff. These studies pointed him toward classical music, but he developed an affinity for ragtime. He formed his first band, Hyman Arluck’s Snappy Trio, in 1919, and dropped out of high school in 1921. The Snappy Trio expanded into the six-piece Southbound Shufflers and played in clubs and on excursion boats cruising Lake Erie.

In 1924, Arlen wrote his first song, “My Gal, Won’t You Come Back to Me?” (aka “My Gal, My Pal”; lyrics by Hyman Cheiffetz). He disbanded The Southbound Shufflers in 1925 and joined The Yankee Six, which grew to 11 pieces and became The Buffalodians. They moved to N.Y. in 1926, and when they broke up he joined the orchestra of Arnold Johnson as pianist, singer, and arranger. Arlen stayed with Johnson until July 1928, then tried to make his way as a solo performer in vaudeville.

Vincent Youmans hired Arlen in 1929 to appear in his musical Great Day (N.Y., Oct. 17, 1929) and to serve as his musical secretary. At a rehearsal, Arlen improvised a tune that led Harry Warren to introduce him to Ted Koehler, who set a lyric to it, creating the song “Get Happy.” Koehler placed it and other songs written with Arlen in the 9:15 Revue (N.Y., Feb. 11, 1930), and though the show was short-lived, “Get Happy” became a hit in July 1930 in a recording by Nat Shilkret and The Victor Orch.

By this time Arlen and Koehler had been hired to write half the score of the Earl Carroll Vanities, which ran 215 performances and featured “Hittin’ the Bottle,” successfully recorded by The Colonial Club Orch. Next the songwriters turned to nightclub work and replaced Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields at the Cotton Club, contributing their first score, for the revue Brown Sugar, probably in December. Arlen also teamed with lyricist/librettist/producer Jack Yellen, a family friend from Buffalo, on his first book musical, You Said It, which ran for 192 performances starting in early 1931.

That spring, Arlen and Koehler mounted another Cotton Club revue, Rhythmania, starring Cab Calloway. The hits that emerged from it were “Kickin’ the Gong Around/’ recorded by Calloway; “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” recorded by Louis Armstrong; and “I Love a Parade,” recorded by The Arden-Ohman Orch. Arlen had not abandoned his ambition to be a performer, and he made occasional recordings. In July 1931 he scored a hit as vocalist with Joe Venuti’s Blue Four on “Little Girl” (music and lyrics by Madeline Hyde and Francis Henry). In December “I Love a Parade” and “Temporarily Blue” were featured in the Warner Bros, film Manhattan Parade, giving Arlen and Koehler their first screen credits.

Arlen and Koehler wrote some songs for the 1932 edition of the Earl Carroll Vanities (N.Y., Sept. 27, 1932), and Cab Calloway had a hit with “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” from the show. Calloway also scored hits with “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” from the next edition of the Cotton Club Parade (Oct. 23, 1932).

Arlen’s last song to be used in a show in 1932 took a convoluted route to becoming a standard. Featured in the play The Great Magoo (N.Y., Dec. 2, 1932) under the title “If You Believed in Me” (lyrics by E. Y. Harburg and Billy Rose), it wasn’t given much exposure during the show’s 11 performances. Under its more familiar title, “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” it was added to the post-Broadway tour of the revue Crazy Quilt of 1933 (Albany, July 28, 1933) and published. This led to its being recorded by Paul Whiteman and His Orch. for a hit in October. And in November it turned up in the motion picture Take a Chance .

Meanwhile, Arlen was scoring another hit during 1933, which he recorded himself. “Stormy Weather” (lyrics by Koehler) was written for Cab Calloway to sing in the next edition of the Cotton Club Parade (April 6, 1933). When Calloway proved unavailable, the song was given to Ethel Waters. In the interim, The Leo Reisman Orch. cut it with Arlen singing, and the record became a best-seller, as did Waters’s recording, making “Stormy Weather” the biggest hit of 1933.

Arlen and Koehler signed a one-film deal with Columbia Pictures and went to Hollywood in the fall of 1933 to write songs for Let’s Fall in Love, released in January 1934. The title song became a best-seller for Eddy Duchin and His Orch. in February; Arlen also had a minor hit with his own recording. The songwriters returned to N.Y. to write their last edition of the Cotton Club Parade (March 23, 1934). Among its memorable songs were “111 Wind,” which became a hit for Eddy Duchin with Arien on vocals, and “As Long as I Live.” Thereafter, Arlen and Koehler ceased to collaborate on a regular basis, though they worked together occasionally. Arlen accepted an offer from E. Y. Harburg and Ira Gershwin to write music to their lyrics for the revue Life Begins at 8:40, which opened in August 1934. It ran 237 performances and launched two hits, “You’re a Builder Upper” by Leo Reisman with Arien on vocals, and “Fun to Be Fooled” by Henry King and His Orch.

Arlen signed another one-picture deal in 1935 with filmmaker Samuel Goldwyn and returned to Hollywood, where he collaborated with Lew Brown on Strike Me Pink, starring Eddie Cantor and Ethel Merman, which was released in January 1936. By that time Arlen had signed a three-picture contract with Warner Bros. The Singing Kid, released in April, featured Al Jolson and Cab Calloway, while Stage Struck in September and Gold Diggers of 1937 in December both starred Dick Powell. All three had lyrics by E. Y. Harburg. Thereafter, Arlen worked for the studios only on a freelance basis.

On Jan. 8, 1937, Arlen married former model and chorus girl Anya Taranda, to whom he remained married until her death in 1970. He and Harburg next wrote a Broadway musical, Hooray for What! It starred Ed Wynn and ran 200 performances, a modest success for the middle of the Depression. In 1938, Arlen and Harburg returned to Hollywood, where they were hired to write the songs for the children’s fantasy The Wizard of Oz . Though not a financial success upon initial theatrical release in August 1939, the film generated a #1 song in the Oscar-winning “Over the Rainbow,” the most popular recordings of which were by Glenn Miller and His Orch. and the film’s star, Judy Garland. The score also featured such charming songs as “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” and “If I Only Had a Brain.” (The Wizard of Oz finally turned a profit and was recognized as a classic film after it began a series of television broadcasts in the late 1950s.)

Arlen and Harburg contributed songs to the Marx Brothers film At the Circus, released in November 1939, including the novelty “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” for Groucho Marx. Two years passed before Arlen’s next film credit, Blues in the Night, on which he collaborated with Johnny Mercer. Released in December 1941, the film is best remembered for its Oscar- nominated title song, which earned half a dozen chart recordings, the most popular of which was the #1 version by Woody Herman and His Orch. Arlen and Mercer next teamed up for the all-star wartime film Star-Spangled Rhythm, released at the end of 1942. Glenn Miller took “That Old Black Magic” from its score to #1, and the song earned a 1943 Academy Award nomination.

Arlen reunited with E. Y. Harburg to write new songs for the film adaptation of the all-black Vernon Duke-John Latouche musical Cabin in the Sky . Released in May, it brought Arien a second 1943 Oscar nomination with “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe.” He earned his third nomination in a single year for “My Shining Hour,” taken from his and Mercer’s score for the Fred Astaire film The Sky’s the Limit, released in September. The song became a Top Ten hit for Glen Gray and The Casa Loma Orch. Also in the film was the torch song “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”

Arlen reunited with Ted Koehler for the March 1944 film Up in Arms, starring Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore, and the songwriters enjoyed a chart record with “Tess’s Torch Song (I Had a Man),” recorded by Ella Mae Morse, as well as an Academy Award nomination for “Now I Know/’ Arlen then wrote his first Broadway musical in seven years with Harburg, Bloomer Girl, which became the most successful stage work of his career with a run of 654 performances. Bing Crosby scored a Top Ten hit with “Evelina” from the score. Crosby also starred in the next Arlen/Mercer film, Here Come the Waves, released at the end of 1944; the war-themed movie musical gave him a major hit with the Oscar-nominated “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” which he recorded with The Andrews Sisters, though it was Mercer himself who took the song to the top of the charts. Jo Stafford also found a minor hit from the film with “Let’s Take the Long Way Home.”

Stafford went into the Top Ten with “Out of This World,” the Arlen/Mercer title song for the June 1945 comedy in which Eddie Bracken sang with Crosby’s voice. Arlen’s other hit of 1945 came in September with a Top Ten revival of “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” by Ella Fitzgerald and The Delta Rhythm Boys. Arlen and Mercer also wrote the songs for the 1946 all-black Broadway musical St. Louis Woman, which ran only 113 performances but featured “Come Rain or Come Shine,” a chart record for Margaret Whiting. Back in Hollywood, Arlen teamed with Leo Robin for the May 1948 film Casbah, which featured the Academy Award nominee “For Every Man There’s a Woman.” Tony Martin, who starred in the film, recorded the song for a chart entry.

Arlen worked steadily in film in the early 1950s, writing with Mercer (The Petty Girl, August 1950), Ralph Blane (My Blue Heaven, September 1950; Down Among the Sheltering Palms, June 1953), and Dorothy Fields (Mr. Imperium, October 1951; The Farmer Takes a Wife, June 1953). But the only hits he enjoyed during these years were minor revivals of “Blues in the Night” by Rosemary Clooney in September 1952 and “I’ve Got the World on a String” by Frank Sinatra in July 1953.

In the last quarter of 1954, Arlen had two film scores and a new Broadway show. For the remake of A Star Is Born, starring Judy Garland and released in October, he wrote songs with Ira Gershwin, including the Oscarnominated “The Man that Got Away.” Arlen and Gershwin also wrote the songs for the backstage drama The Country Girl, starring Bing Crosby and released in December. For Broadway, Arlen teamed up with novelist Truman Capote on House of Flowers, which ran only 137 performances despite a critically acclaimed score including “A Sleepin’ Bee.”

Arlen’s most popular songs continued to enjoy revivals in the mid-1950s. Sammy Davis Jr. took “That Old Black Magic” into the Top 40 in August 1955; Tony Bennett had a chart entry with “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” in May 1957, and Louis Prima and Keely Smith returned “That Old Black Magic” to the Top 40 yet again in December 1958. Meanwhile, Arlen wrote two Broadway musicals, 1957’s Jamaica (with Harburg), starring Lena Home, which was a hit, running 557 performances; and 1959’s Saratoga (with Mercer), which failed.

In the 1960s, Arlen’s Top 40 song revivals included “Over the Rainbow” by The Demensions in September 1960; “That Old Black Magic” by Bobby Rydell in May 1961; “Let’s Fall in Love” by Peaches and Herb in March 1967; and “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” by The Fifth Estate, in July 1967. The composer wrote a final film score with E. Y. Harburg for the animated film Gay Purr-ee, featuring the voices of Judy Garland and Robert Goulet and released in December 1962, and he wrote the title song for Garland’s final film, Í Could Go on Singing, released in May 1963. In 1966 he released an album, Harold Sings Arlen (With Friend), accompanied by Barbra Streisand, who had recorded many of his songs on her early albums. He wrote songs for two unproduced musicals, Softly (intended for Broadway), in 1966, and Clippity Clop and Clementine (for television), in 1973, and contributed some new songs to an Off-Broadway revival of House of Flowers that opened in January 1968. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was largely inactive during the last decade of his life. He died in 1986 at age 81.

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over 7 years ago

OMG!!! ok so in this class i had to perform a song by someone that i had never heard of. I picked my fave song because I didn't know who wrote it. wow oh wow I picked "Over the Rainbow". That was a good choice. going to perform the song this week. NOT FUN.