Arlen, Harold

Arlen, Harold ärˈlən [key], 1905–86, American jazz and popular composer, b. Buffalo, N.Y., as Hyman Arluck. From the age of seven Arlen sang in the synagogue where his father was cantor, at 15 he left school to play jazz piano, and at 16 he left home. After coming to New York City in 1925, Arlen achieved fame by writing songs for various reviews and for the shows at Harlem's Cotton Club (1930–34). Many of his songs became jazz standards because of their genuine blues feeling and haunting melodies (e.g., “Ill Wind,” “Stormy Weather,” “Blues in the Night”), and the harmonic richness and melodic inventiveness of his other songs (e.g., “That Old Black Magic,” “Get Happy,” “One for My Baby”) also had their roots in jazz. In 1939, Arlen won an Academy Award for the song “Over the Rainbow” in the film The Wizard of Oz. Among the 29 other films for which he wrote scores are Cabin in the Sky (1943) and A Star Is Born (1954). He also wrote the music for eight Broadway shows, notably House of Flowers (1954).

See biography by E. Jablonski (1961, repr. 1985, rev. ed. 1996); Harold Arlen Songbook (1987).

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