Hyman Arluck, the child of a Jewish cantor, was born in Buffalo, New York on February 15, 1905. He learned to play the piano as a child and formed his first band in Buffalo when he was a teenager. While in his early 20s, Arluck moved to New York City and soon got work as as accompanist in vaudeville; it was at that time that he changed his name to Harold Arlen.
His first well-known song was written when he was just 24 years old with lyricist Ted Koehler: “Get Happy,” which many readers may remember from the Judy Garland number in the 1950 movie Summer Stock. Arlen and Koehler worked in the early 1930s for the Cotton Club, and the pair honed their extraordinary song writing talents during those years. Songs written during that period included “Stormy Weather” and “Let’s Fall In Love.”
Arlen began working in Hollywood in the mid 1930s, which was his first experience working with E.Y. “Yip” Harburg. Arlen and Harburg were contracted in 1938 to write the score for the upcoming movie The Wizard of Oz, which included, of course, “Over The Rainbow,” which won the Academy Award for Best Song and became a life-long standard for Judy Garland for the rest of her career.
In the 1940s, Arlen started working with lyricist Johnny Mercer; Arlen and Mercer wrote many great songs during that decade including “Blues in the Night,” “That Old Black Magic,” Come Rain or Come Shine” and “One For My Baby.”
In 1954, Arlen culminated his Hollywood career with the score for A Star Is Born, which included another Judy Garland standard “The Man That Got Away.”
In the 1950s, Arlen returned to New York and wrote several fine Broadway musicals with wonderful songs, though none were smash hits.
Harold Arlen died at the age of 81 on April 23, 1986. He left behind tremendous legacy of some of the greatest songs in the American Songbook.
“The Man That Got Away” is one this author’s favorite songs. Here’s is Tony Bennett’s recording of the song from his 1961 album with Ralph Sharon Tony Sings For Two.
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