20 Apr A Song of Many Stories
Over the Rainbow
There are some songs you just melt into every time you hear them. Some that have been reimagined by so many artists, male and female, over the years they don’t really belong to anyone.
When you’ve been sung by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Patti LaBelle, Willie Nelson, Mandy Patinkin, Rufus Wainwright, Pink, Ariana Grande and the cast of Glee, as a song, you’ve risen to the highest of heights.
And Judy Garland. In arguably the most universally loved motion picture of all time…
But that’s just the song. Just one story. There are several others that may color what you see the next time you hear Over the Rainbow.
E. Y. Yip Harburg worked on innumerable songs with his partner, Harold Arlen including It’s Only a Paper Moon, Lydia the Tattooed Lady and, of course, Over the Rainbow.
The Wizard of Oz premiered in 1939 at the height of Hollywood’s golden era, but it would be just over a decade later that Harburg’s views on equality would land him in a heap of trouble. He was identified (falsely) by the House Unamerican Activities Committee as a member of the Communist Party and blacklisted from working in Hollywood from 1950-1962.
He survived the experience and emerged still a joyous, optimistic troubadour.
Yip Harburg sings Over the Rainbow
The song that almost never happened.
As far as the song itself… Following a preview of the film in San Luis Obispo, the famed MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer and producer Mervyn LeRoy had the song cut because they felt it “slowed down the picture” and sounded “like something for Jeanette MacDonald, not for a little girl singing in a barnyard.”
Fortunately for us all, associate producer Arther Freed and Garland’s vocal coach Roger Edens fight paid off. The song was kept, an instrumental version added over the final credits and it became one of the best known songs of all time.
An Unlikely Voice
And in 1993, an unusual version of the song emerged from the 50th state of the union. It was used to close one of the most beloved television shows of that generation, E.R., but the story of how Israel Kamakawiwo’ole became an unlikely pop star and Hawaiian hero is perhaps more compelling.
Over the Rainbow – in Hawaii
What the Song Means
PBS Newshour did a unique analysis of what the song means and how it fit into the movie so well that seems to explain some of the songs popularity.
Never listen the same way again.
And just for fun…
Here’s another, very different, take on Oz…
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