Published on July 5, 2016
Edgar Yipsel “Yip” Harburg (born Isidore Hochberg, Yiddish: איסידור הוכברג; April 8, 1896 – March 5, 1981) was an American popular song lyricist who worked with many well-known composers. He wrote the lyrics to the standards “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” “April in Paris,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” as well as all of the songs in The Wizard of Oz, including “Over the Rainbow.” He was known for the social commentary of his lyrics, as well as his liberal sensibilities. He championed racial and gender equality and union politics. He also was an ardent critic of religion.
Harburg and Gorney were offered a contract with Paramount: in Hollywood, Harburg worked with composers Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Jerome Kern, Jule Styne, and Burton Lane, and later wrote the lyrics for The Wizard of Oz, one of the earliest known “integrated musicals,” for which he won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “Over the Rainbow.”
Of his work on The Wizard of Oz, his son (and biographer) Ernie Harburg has said:
So anyhow, Yip also wrote all the dialogue in that time and the setup to the songs and he also wrote the part where they give out the heart, the brains and the nerve, because he was the final script editor. And he — there were eleven screenwriters on that — and he pulled the whole thing together, wrote his own lines and gave the thing a coherence and unity which made it a work of art. But he doesn’t get credit for that. He gets lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, you see. But nevertheless, he put his influence on the thing.
Working in Hollywood did not stop Harburg’s career on Broadway. In the 1940s, he wrote a series of “book” musicals with social messages, including the successful Bloomer Girl (1944), set during the Civil War, which was about temperance and women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer. Harburg’s best known Broadway show, Finian’s Rainbow (1947) was, in its original production, possibly the first Broadway musical with a racially integrated chorus line, and features his “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich.” It was made into a film in 1968 starring Fred Astaire and Petula Clark, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.