I've posted this video in the past, but like it so much that I browsed around to find it again. And watching it last night, I thought it would be nice to post it once more, for no reason other than it's SO good. But I thought I should hold off, since I already had a song this morning from Sheldon Harnick on the occasion of his 91st birthday. But then however I realized it not only is particularly appropriate to re-post it now...but there are actually three reasons why it's spot-on appropriate to post today.
This is legendary lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg singing his song, "Over the Rainbow." Given that I just posted the full, seven-segment version of The Wizard of Oz in concert, it seemed proper to have the writer himself conclude the festivities with his classic song. And that's the first reason.
This may be my favorite version of the song -- which is saying a lot, given how many recordings there are of it. This recording comes from a 1980s TV series I've mentioned, The Songwriters, where songwriters performed their own songs. Harburg's program might be the least interesting, not because of the songs (they're great, including his score with Burton Lane of Finian's Rainbow, and numbers like "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" for the Marx Bros., and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime") , but rather because he's not much of a singer, so they have a troupe of performers doing most of the singing. One of the few he sings himself though is the very first one in the show -- "Over the Rainbow." But, boy, howdy, does he blow it out of the park. He puts so much nuance and emotion into his rendition that you get a new, rich insight into a song you've heard relentlessly. He's not whimsically wondering about things, but Really Wants to Know, with all his heart, if birds can fly, why then can't he??! It's so meaningful and moving to Harburg that, even though he must have sung this hundreds if not thousands of times, he's in tears at the end.
The second reason I realized how appropriate this is for today is that, not only does it not conflict with the video this morning, it perfectly complements it. Two songs performed by the legendary lyricists who wrote them. Book-end companion pieces, as it were.
But the third reason why this video is ideal for today comes from a story that Sheldon Harnick has told repeatedly about his career.
Harnick attended Northwestern University (o huzzah...!) and had written a few songs for the school's famous student revue, the Waa-Mu Show, though the reason he went to college there was to train to be a professional violinist. However, one day a friend of his, Charlotte Rae (who went on to have a long career, including as the housemother on the series, Facts of Life) came back from a trip to New York, and lent him the cast album of a show she'd seen that she loved and knew Harnick would love it, that it was perfect for him. The show was Finian's Rainbow, and Harnick has said that it floored him. While he loved the whole album, he was most especially taken by the lyrics, hearing what they could do so cleverly and with humor, yet say important things. He changed his career path, and decided to focus instead on his songwriting, rather than playing the violin.
Eventually, he did go to New York and started getting small bits of work, writing for revues and such. And eventually, Charlotte Rae (who was now in New York, too) invited him to a party specifically because she knew that Harnick's idol, Yip Harburg would be there. The two met, and Harnick asked if he could set up a meeting to "audition" some of his songs for Harburg, who said yes. The meeting went very well, and afterwards Harburg himself sent a thoughtful card to the young songwriter offering him encouragement. (Talk about grace and charm.)
So...in the end, all of that, but most especially since Yip Harburg was the idol and mentor of Sheldon Harnick, today's birthday celebrant, that's why I realized that this video belongs here today.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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