Harburg, E. Y.

Harburg, (Edgar) E. Y. “Yip”

(1896–1981) librettist, lyricist; born in New York City. Showing an early talent for acting and writing, he attended a high school for gifted students where he met Ira Gershwin; they both went to the City College of New York where they collaborated on a column for the college newspaper. Harburg contributed light verse to the newspapers, but it was hearing Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore that made him want to be a lyricist. Needing to support himself, he worked for a business that took him to South America (1918–21). He returned to start an electrical appliance business and had his first lyrics performed on Broadway in 1926. The stock market crash of 1929 forced him to take up writing full time and in the ensuing years he wrote a number of standards, including "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (1932). He collaborated with several composers but enjoyed his greatest success with Harold Arlen; they wrote many standards for film and stage musicals including "Over the Rainbow" (1939). In 1947 he was blacklisted in Hollywood for left-wing sentiments, and he returned to Broadway, collaborating on the book and writing lyrics for several musicals, the most successful being Finian's Rainbow (1947). He continued to work in theater until 1977 and was killed in an automobile crash just before he was to be honored with a television tribute and receive an award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.