Harold Arlen
Arlen in 1960
Hyman Arluck

(1905-02-15)February 15, 1905
DiedApril 23, 1986(1986-04-23) (aged 81)
Resting placeFerncliff Cemetery
(m. 1937; died 1970)
ChildrenAdopted his brother's son in 1985[1]

Harold Arlen (born Hyman Arluck; February 15, 1905 – April 23, 1986) was an American composer of popular music,[2] who composed over 500 songs, a number of which have become known worldwide. In addition to composing the songs for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz (lyrics by Yip Harburg), including "Over the Rainbow", which won him the Oscar for Best Original Song, he was nominated as composer for 8 other Oscar awards. Arlen is a highly regarded contributor to the Great American Songbook. "Over the Rainbow" was voted the 20th century's No. 1 song by the RIAA and the NEA.[3][4]

Life and career

Arlen was born in Buffalo, New York, the child of a Jewish cantor.[2] His twin brother died the next day. He learned to play the piano as a youth, and formed a band as a young man. He achieved some local success as a pianist and singer before moving to New York City in his early twenties, where he worked as an accompanist in vaudeville[5] and changed his name to Harold Arlen. Between 1926 and about 1934, Arlen appeared occasionally as a band vocalist on records by The Buffalodians, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Leo Reisman, and Eddie Duchin, usually singing his own compositions.

In 1929, Arlen composed his first well-known song: "Get Happy" (with lyrics by Ted Koehler).[2] Throughout the early and mid-1930s, Arlen and Koehler wrote shows for the Cotton Club, a popular Harlem night club, as well as for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films.[2] Arlen and Koehler's partnership resulted in a number of hit songs, including the familiar standards "Let's Fall in Love" and "Stormy Weather".[2] Arlen continued to perform as a pianist and vocalist with some success, most notably on records with Leo Reisman's society dance orchestra.

In the mid-1930s, Arlen married, and spent increasing time in California, writing for movie musicals. It was at this time that he began working with lyricist E. Y. "Yip" Harburg.[2] In 1938, the team was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz,[2] the most famous of which is "Over the Rainbow", for which they won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. They also wrote "Down with Love" (featured in the 1937 Broadway show Hooray for What!), "Lydia the Tattooed Lady", for Groucho Marx in At the Circus in 1939, and "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe", for Ethel Waters in the 1943 movie Cabin in the Sky.[2]

Arlen was a longtime friend and onetime roommate of actor Ray Bolger, who starred in The Wizard of Oz.

In the 1940s, he teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer, and continued to write hit songs like "Blues in the Night", "Out of this World", "That Old Black Magic", "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive", "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home", "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)".[2]

Arlen composed two of the defining songs of Judy Garland's career: "Over the Rainbow" and "The Man That Got Away", the last written for the 1954 version of the film A Star Is Born.[2] At her famous 1961 Carnegie Hall concert, after finishing a set of his songs, Garland acknowledged Arlen in the audience and invited him to receive an ovation.

Arlen recorded his debut album as a vocalist, Harold Sings Arlen (With Friend), in 1966. Barbra Streisand accompanied him on two songs.[6]

Marriage and death

Arlen and Anya Taranda married on January 6, 1937, over the objection of their parents, because she was Gentile and he was Jewish. In 1951, Anya was institutionalized for seven years. Coming home the same year that Celia Arnuk (Harold's mother) had died,[7] she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1969, which became fatal by 1970.[8] Arlen never remarried. He died of cancer on April 23, 1986, at his Manhattan apartment at the age of eighty-one.[8][9] Arlen is buried next to his wife at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. After Arlen's death, Irving Berlin summed up his life at a tribute, saying: "He wasn't as well known as some of us, but he was a better songwriter than most of us and he will be missed by all of us."[10]

Shortly before his death, Arlen adopted his own nephew, Samuel, the 22 year old adult son of his brother Julius "Jerry" Arluck; his estate would have an heir in order to extend his copyright.[11] Known as Samuel Arlen, he is a musician in his own right, as both a saxophonist as well as a music publisher;[12] his control extends to the company that owns the rights to the Arlen catalog.


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Arlen (left) performs with Peggy Lee and Vic Damone in 1961

Works for Broadway

Major songs




  1. ^ a b Jablonski, Edward (1996). Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues. University Press of New England. p. 360. ISBN 978-1555532635.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 50. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ "Honors & Awards". Haroldarlen.com. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  4. ^ "New song list puts 'Rainbow' way up high – CNN". Archives.cnn.com. March 7, 2001. Archived from the original on July 7, 2009. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  5. ^ Laurie, Joe Jr. (1953). Vaudeville: From the Honky Tonks to the Palace. New York: Henry Holt. p. 328. ASIN B000NRYS3A.
  6. ^ Harold Sings Arlen (With Friend) at AllMusic
  7. ^ Singer, Barry (December 6, 2017). "Harold Arlen at 110: Before It's Too Late". huffpost.com. Huffpost. Retrieved October 27, 2023. ... In November 1958, Arlen's mother, Celia Arluck, died. Shortly thereafter, perhaps not coincidentally, Anya Arlen came home ...
  8. ^ a b "Come Rain or Come Shine". The New Yorker. September 12, 2005. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  9. ^ Pace, Eric (April 24, 1986). "Harold Arlen, Composer of Song Standards". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Jablonski, Edward (1998). Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues. UPNE. pp. 13–. ISBN 978-1-55553-366-3.
  11. ^ Singer, Barry (December 6, 2017). "Harold Arlen at 110: Before It's Too Late". huffpost.com. Huffpost. Retrieved October 27, 2023. ... Harold Arlen adopted Samuel as his own son, though Jerry Arlen was still alive ...
  12. ^ Arlen, Samuel. "The Music of Sam Arlen - Biography". The Music of Sam Arlen. samarlen.com. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  13. ^ Williams, Iain Cameron (2002). Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall. Continuum Publishing. ISBN 0826458939.
  14. ^ Johnston, Laurie (November 19, 1979). "Theater Hall of Fame Enshrines 51 Artists" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2014.