Arlen and Harburg's Over the Rainbow

Author / Artist: 
Publication Date: 
September, 2017

"Over the Rainbow" surged to worldwide fame upon its performance by Judy Garland in the MGM film musical The Wizard of Oz (1939). Voted the greatest song of the twentieth century in a 2000 survey, it is a masterful balance of sophistication and child-like simplicity in which composer Harold Arlen and lyricist E. Y. ("Yip") Harburg poignantly captured the hope and anxiety harbored by Dorothy's character.

Author Walter Frisch traces the history of this song from its inception during the development of The Wizard of Oz, to some of its many reinterpretations over the course of the twentieth century. He provides a close reading of the music and lyrics, then examines the evolution of the ballad’s meaning as it traversed widely varying cultural contexts. From its adoption as a jazz standard by generations of pianists, to its contribution to Judy Garland's role as a gay icon, to its reemergence as a chart-topping recording by Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, "Over the Rainbow" continues to engage audiences and performers alike in surprising ways.