Harold Arlen

Harold Arlen

American composer and songwriter
Date of Birth: 15.02.1905
Country: USA

  1. Biography of Harold Arlen
  2. Early Life and Career
  3. Collaborations and Success
  4. Later Life and Legacy
  5. Late Years and Death

Biography of Harold Arlen

Harold Arlen was an American composer and songwriter known for his contributions to popular music. He wrote over 500 songs, many of which achieved worldwide fame. One of his most iconic works is the music for the film "The Wizard of Oz," which includes the timeless song "Over the Rainbow." "Over the Rainbow" has been recognized as the "Number One Song of the 20th Century" by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Arlen's contribution to the Great American Songbook, a collection of music for films and musicals recorded from the 1920s to the 1960s, is invaluable.

Harold Arlen

Early Life and Career

Harold Arlen, whose real name was Chaim Arluck, was born on February 15, 1905, in Buffalo, New York. He grew up in a Jewish family, where his father was a cantor, a person who leads prayers in a synagogue with a beautiful and powerful voice. Unfortunately, his twin brother died the day after their birth. In his youth, Harold took piano lessons and formed his first orchestra at the age of 15. By the age of 16, he left home and began living independently. By the time he turned 20, he gained recognition as a local singer and pianist and decided to move to New York City.

Collaborations and Success

Upon moving to New York, Arlen worked as an accompanist in vaudeville performances and in 1928, he changed his name to a more resonant pseudonym. From 1926 to 1934, Arlen occasionally recorded as a vocalist with various jazz artists, including Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Leo Reisman, and Eddie Duchin, often singing his own compositions. In 1929, Arlen wrote his first notable song, "Get Happy," with lyrics by Ted Koehler, with whom he frequently collaborated. In the early 1930s, Arlen and Koehler created shows for the Cotton Club, a popular nightclub in Harlem, and worked on Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. Their collaboration produced numerous hits, including the immortal songs "Let's Fall in Love" and "Stormy Weather." Arlen continued to perform successfully as a pianist and vocalist, and his compositions were highly regarded by jazz musicians due to their incorporation of blues elements, a staple of American popular songs.

Later Life and Legacy

In 1937, Harold married Anya Taranda, a 22-year-old model and actress, and began spending more time in California, working on music for film musicals. Their marriage lasted until her death in 1970, during which she spent a quarter of their time together in sanatoriums due to her mental health issues, which led to physical violence towards Harold and others. It was during this time that Arlen began collaborating with lyricist E.Y. Harburg. In 1938, they were hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to write songs for the film "The Wizard of Oz," which resulted in an Oscar Award for Best Music and Original Song in 1940. Arlen's songs continue to be actively used in film productions, such as the inclusion of "Over the Rainbow" in the final episode of the highly-rated TV series "Glee" in 2010. Interestingly, Arlen was a longtime friend and neighbor of actor Ray Bolger, who portrayed the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz." In the 1940s, Arlen began working with lyricist Johnny Mercer, and their collaboration produced hits such as "Blues in the Night," "That Old Black Magic," "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home," and "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)."

Late Years and Death

The 1950s began with hardships for Arlen, as his wife was admitted to a mental institution, his father passed away, and he himself nearly died from a perforated ulcer in 1954. In 1956, his mother also passed away, and the composer fell silent for a year, unable to cope with this loss. However, the 1960s proved to be a happy and fruitful decade for Arlen, as he wrote over 50 popular songs. After his wife's death in 1970, Arlen began to lose interest in life and gradually became a recluse, but he continued to work. He passed away on April 23, 1986, and was buried next to his wife at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.