Music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. "Yip" Harburg
And though many people may not have actually seen a production of Finian's Rainbow, on stage or on film, songs from Finian's, like "Old Devil Moon," "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" and "If This Isn't Love" have become standards. As a jazz fan, I probably have 20 versions of "April in Paris." No documentary or history of the Great Depression in the U.S. would be complete without "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
Yet despite the fame of these tunes, few realize the infamy of the government persecution and blacklisting of the lyricist during the McCarthy period witch hunts.
Follow me below the fold to meet Yip Harburg.
Democracy Now did a comprehensive tribute to Yip Harburg several years ago. I've embedded the first part here, the rest are on Youtube.
funds projects that (a) work toward world peace, (b) work to end economic and social discrimination and exploitation, racial/ethnic conflicts, and social injustice; (b) provide educational opportunities to low-income and minority students through scholarship organizations; (c) advance and promote new works of American political art, especially efforts involving cultural and societal issues; (d) preserve and enhance the legacy of E.Y. Harburg through new projects or revivals of his standard works in all media.Here is a part of their biography:
E. Y. (Yip) Harburg, often known as "Broadway's social conscience," was born on April 8, 1896 of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, raised in poverty on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and later attended City College of New York where he struck up a lifelong friendship with his classmate, Ira Gershwin. Yip was a master lyricist, poet and bookwriter who was dedicated to social justice...
From 1951 to 1961 during the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations and the McCarthy hearings Yip was “blacklisted” for his political views from film, television and radio. Broadway, however, remained free from this kind of censorship.
Although never a member of the Communist Party (he was a member of the Socialist Party, and joked that "Yip" referred to the Young People's Socialist League, nicknamed the "Yipsels") he had been involved in radical groups, and he was blacklisted. Harburg was named in a pamphlet "Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television;" his involvement with the Hollywood Democratic Committee, and his refusal to identify reputed communists, led to him being blocked from working in Hollywood films, television, and radio for twelve full years, from 1950 to 1962. "As the writer of the lyric of the song ‘God’s Country,’ I am outraged by the suggestion that somehow I am connected with, believe in, or am sympathetic with Communist or totalitarian philosophy," he wrote to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950. Harburg was unable to travel abroad during this period, as his passport had been revoked. With a score by Sammy Fain and Harburg's lyrics, the musical Flahooley (1951) satirized the witch-hunt's hysterically anti-communist sentiment, but it closed after 40 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway. The New York critics were dismissive of the show, although it had been a success during its earlier pre-Broadway run in Philadelphia.According to his biography:
Yip followed the dream of democratic socialism: He believed that all people should be guaranteed basic human rights, political equality, free education, economic opportunity and free health services. He spent most of his life fighting for these goals; his songs "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and "Over the Rainbow" express these universal cries for hope in hard times to all peoples.
As Broadway's social commentator, and given his ability to "gild the philosophic pill" with witticisms and a lyric style all his own, Yip Harburg is a unique and major lyricist of 20th century American musical theatre.
Yip Harburg died on March 5, 1981, at 84 years young.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,There are several excellent books about Harburg. I'd suggest Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist:
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?
Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Harriet Hyman Alonso enables Harburg to talk about his life and work. He tells of his early childhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, his public school education, how the Great Depression opened the way to writing lyrics, and his work on Broadway and Hollywood, including his blacklisting during the McCarthy era. Finally, but most importantly, Harburg shares his commitment to human rights and the ways it affected his writing and his career path. Includes an appendix with Harburg’s key musicals, songs, and films.His son, Ernie Harburg wrote, with Harold Meyerson, Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz?: Yip Harburg, Lyricist:
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.I've written about Finian's Rainbow here before, at the time of its first Broadway revival. It is my favorite Broadway musical.
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.
Having left Ireland, Finian McLonergan and his daughter Sharon arrive in the American state of Missitucky with a magical golden crock which has been stolen from Og, a leprechaun. Finian buries the crock believing that it will grow bigger. Rawkins, a racist senator, is determined to get his hands on the it but is thwarted when he is magically turned black and gets a helping of his own bigotry. After many plot twists all is resolved and love, wealth and happiness descend on Rainbow Valley.I was born in 1947, the year Finian opened, and friends of my parents were in the show, which made waves then for having a well-integrated cast, and it continued to do so, up into the '60s. This news article touts the first integrated cast in Tampa in 1967. Miles Jefferson, black theater critic and scholar wrote of this in 1947 in The Negro on Broadway, 1946-1947 Phylon Vol. 8, No. 2.
The real treat of Finian's Rainbow, however, has been left until last. For the first time in this reviewer's memory race intolerance in the Deep South has been subjected to light, but peppery spoofing in a musical show, and this has been accomplished in the best of taste and with great style. Some of the critics accused the show of undue vulgarity in spots and of a tormenting cuteness. Race issues were suspected of having been dragged in by the ears. This spectator cannot agree. Nothing in the show is too coy for comfort and race peculiarities in the South are only exposed to the lightest kind of raillery, quite reticent, in view of their real fantastic nature.Finian had both racial and working class themes.
Sharon-Not very different from the way poor and working class folks are disparaged today—the lazy blahs, po' whites and mexicans.
When a rich man doesn't want to work
He's a bon vivant.
Yes, he's a bon vivant.
But when a poor man doesn't want to work,
He's a loafer, he's a lounger
He's a lazy good for nothing
He's a jerk!
I've been thinking about Finian's Rainbow a lot recently. Given the uptick in vocal and vitriolic racism from right-wing elected officials and their minions, and the rule of corporate personhood and big money interests of the 1 percent—wouldn't it be nice to find the pot of gold I call reparations, and to have white bigoted senators and congresspeople turned black and/or poor to experience how we have to live our lives under their regime?
Where's a leprechaun when you need one?