Yip Harburg, the legendary songwriter, wrote the lyrics to Somewhere Over The Rainbow in 1937 for the MGM movie, The Wizard of Oz. “Yip” was a socialist, a pacifist, and a proponent for social justice. Born in 1896 into a poor Jewish household as “Isodore Hochberg”, many think that ” Yip” was a yiddish nickname. It was actually an acronym for YPSI, the moniker for the Young People’s Socialist League of which Yip was involved. He saw capitalism as damaging to the human spirit.
In this last week, Somewhere Over The Rainbow , has been sung by the Choir of Sandy Hook Elementary school. The Connecticut community of Newtown, wrecked with tragedy just a month ago, is demonstrating resiliency and optimism by recording this song. The actual singing of the song was an important aspect of the ongoing healing process for kids in the wake of the tragedy. The song can be seen across the internet and YouTube but here is a short piece featuring members of the Talking Heads who donated their Connecticut recording studio for the Sandy Hook choir. The purchase of the song benefits various not-for-profit organizations associated with the choir. You can purchase it here for Amazon and here for itunes.
The video below is of Yip Harburg at the age of 82 singing one of his more famous songs. He was also well-recognized as writing great “lead ins” for songs in movies and broadway before people actually broke into song. Here you can see his own brilliant lead in which is brilliantly seamless. This performance epitomizes the archetype of the kindly grandfather we all wish we had. His rendition is enthusiastic and poignant.
Our American school system is redirecting itself towards a curriculum dominated by science and math. But science and math do not heal wounded hearts. But painting, music, dance and film can help. The brilliant artistry found in Somewhere Over The Rainbow contains a poetic hopefulness and mystery. It represents different values for different tribes. For Jews and Christians, it represents the promise that God made to Noah in the creation of the first recorded rainbow. To secular humanists, it is a call to perseverance to achieve Utopia; to others, it means a general optimism in moments of despair.
The song, as it appears in the film, was originally cut after the previews. The MGM suits thought its slowed down the action of the story. It was only through the lobbying by Yip Harburg and other trusted associates that went against the focus group numbers that forced the song to remain in the picture.
The song is number one of the “Songs of the Century” list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. The American Film Institute also ranked “Over the Rainbow” the greatest movie song of all time on the list of “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs“. It was adopted (along with Irving Berlin‘s “White Christmas“) by American troops in Europe in World War II as a symbol of the United States—in fact, Judy Garland even performed the song for American troops as part of her 1943 command performance.
So much has been written about new gun laws as a result of Sandy Hook. But as parents and citizens, we have to be careful of guarding this new generation in other ways as well. We can’t forget music in their education. They need to be exposed to the wonders and power for the arts, for they too will need that in the world they grow into. We can’t let the arts slip away from American public education.
This is part I on the Sandy Hook / Somewhere Over The Rainbow cycle.