Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz?

Yip Harburg, Lyricist
Harold Meyerson and Ernie Harburg
The life story of the man who gave Dorothy and her Oz companions something to sing about


Many of us can sing along with Dorothy when she imagines a place "Over the Rainbow." And we all remember the Depression-era classic "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" But very few can name the man who put the words to these celebrated hallmarks of American music- Yip Harburg. Five hundred songs spanning a fifty-year career bear witness to the brilliance of this until-now obscure figure.

Plunge into this scrupulously documented volume and discover how Harburg, once a poet of light verse, played a major role in the transformation of the Broadway revue into the sophisticated musical of the 1940s and 1950s. With extensive and exclusive interviews and lyrical analysis, the authors capture Harburg's wit, distinctive voice, and creative and collaborative methods.

Inquiry into Harburg's Jewish, New York City roots, apprenticeship in his craft, and involvement in the radical politics of the 1930s- he was blacklisted in the 1950s- puts into context the seemingly irreconcilable skepticism and optimism that contoured this lyrical genius's life and work.

Harold Meyerson is Executive Editor and chief political columnist, L.A. Weekly, and is on the editorial board of Dissent.

Ernie Harburg is a social psychologist and epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, coauthor (with Bernard Rosenberg) of The Broadway Musical: Collaboration in Commerce and Art, and Yip Harburg's son.

Praise / Awards

  • "My melodies always sounded better with a Yip Harburg lyric."
    —Burton Lane
  • "I love Yip Harburg's lyrics for their compassion, their understanding that life is not a bed of roses but that there is always hope. I feel this about every one of Yip's songs that I sing. They all contain a deep feeling for people, their hopes, their ideas, their dreams."
    —Lena Horne
  • "Yip Harburg might be considered the most influential of all the masters. He was one of the first to write lyrics to character, and combined the wit of Hart and Porter, the warmth of Hammerstein, the directedness of Berlin, and the spirit of Ira Gershwin."
    —Martin Gottfried, author of Broadway Musicals
  • "The richness, wit, and joy of spirit inherent in all of Yip Harburg's work are well represented in this loving tribute. This book put me not only over the rainbow, but over the moon."
    —Michael Feinstein
  • "A celebration of the art of lyric writing by one of its finest practitioners. . . . Its subtle analyses of the chemistry of words and music are always illuminating. It places Harburg's career in the context of the world of musical entertainment during one of its most vital eras, then places that history in the larger context of social and cultural history."
    —Philip Furia, author of The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists
  • "Finian's Rainbow, whose lyrics express meaningful ideas with grace, intelligence, and lightness of touch, made me want to write for the musical theater. Yip Harburg remains one of my heroes."
    —Sheldon Harnick
  • ". . . a virtuoso critical assessment of lyric writing. . . ."
    American Theatre
  • "Hailing Harburg for his enlightened takes on feminism, race, consumerism and socialism, [the authors] investigate his songs for both political keenness and lyric complexity. And they attend to Harburg's psyche as well, taking time to consider what his words reveal about his inner life. . . . Their love for Harburg's work, for Harburg himself, and for the possibilities of a serious musical theatre which does not forsake its entertainment imperative, suffuses this study. The sheer intelligence and rigor of their analysis made me want to see a revival of every show Harburg wrote . . . ."
    American Theatre
  • "Just the ticket for theater fans . . . ."
    AP Features
  • "[Yip Harburg was] one of the songsmiths who changed the American musical from the revue format into a so-called book show in which song and dance became media for telling a dramatic story . . . . This biography benefits from the collaboration of Harburg's son Ernie; plenty of pictures; appendixes of Harburg's stage, film, and broadcast credits; a list of his song titles; and lots of quoted lyrics."
  • "This loving memoir of a fifty-year career helps explain the heartbreak and the subtle political agenda that informed such songs as 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,' 'Paper Moon,' and 'April in Paris,' to say nothing of the glorious lyrics for the delicious 'Finian's Rainbow' and, of course the enduring film classic of the book's title."
    Christian Science Monitor
  • "The fascinating life and times of Yip Harburg, paradoxically one of our greatest and least celebrated American songwriters, have been recounted in Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz?, written by the Los Angeles Times' executive editor, Harold Meyerson, and Ernie Harburg, the lyricist's son. Drawing extensively on Harburg's interviews and lectures and lavishly illustrated with reproductions of photographs and songsheets from the lyricist's archives, the book will serve for years to come as the standard biography on Harburg's life."
  • ". . . adds to the literature on the history of the Broadway musical the perspective of an accomplished wordsmith who collaborated with major composers like Harold Arlen, Burton Lane, Vernon Duke, and Jerome Kern but whose own name has been less well remembered."
    Library Journal
  • "[This] detailed analysis of lyrics and the connections of lyrics with the music will provide much food for thought for all those who seek to understand how popular culture can work, at its best, against the logic of the cash-register system that handles the receipts, manipulates the audience, and pays off the artist (as little as possible). The best thing about Who Put the Rainbow is that, like Yip himself, it manages to tell the truth about Yip's cultural politics without ever being heavy-handed. This is a lesson we all need to learn."
    Monthly Review
  • ". . . required reading for anyone interested in the great American songs."
    New York Times Book Review
  • ". . . this is a meticulously written and scrupulously researched book. . . . [Yip Harburg's] wit and compassion live again in this incisively written and handsomely designed volume."
    Past Times: The Nostalgia Entertainment Newsletter
  • "Read it, you songwriters!"
    —Pete Seeger, Sing Out!
  • "[An] excellent biography . . . . This book is meticulously annotated and is, in its way, the ideal of how such a career should be chronicled."
    Times Literary (London)

Product Details

  • 6.0 x 9.0.
  • 472pp.
  • 62 B&W photographs & illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1995
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08312-1

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.