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Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist (Music/Interview) Hardcover – December 3, 2012
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“Yip Harburg was a brilliant lyricist, committed humanitarian, and an engaging raconteur. Harriet Alonso has done a superb job of weaving Harburg’s own words and memories into a compelling biography of one of the giants of the Great American Songbook.” (Walter Frisch, professor of music, Columbia University)
“At concerts I often used to talk about Yip, how he and Harold Arlen wrote ‘Over the Rainbow’ and then I’d get the whole audience to sing it together.” (Pete Seeger)
“Harriet Alonso’s valuable book permits Yip Harburg―a passionate, politically committed, and gifted lyricist and storyteller―to tell his own story. His words bring back to life the golden age of songwriting and liberal activism in 20th century America.” (Burton Peretti, author of Nightclub City)
Top customer reviews
This book speaks of the life of Harburg and his work in a personal and appealing way. The reader gets to feel present as the songs were conceived and written. A good example is the song that made Harburg famous, "Brother Can You spare A Dime" We read how the song's title was inspired by an actual hobo, and how it was almost thrown out of the show by the Schubert brothers who had not actually spoken to each other in years..
I recommend this book highly.
Through Alonso's book, I got a great portrait of the wordsmith who came up with the lyrics to that movie's songs, among many others ("Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", "It's Only a Paper Moon" and many more), and the social critique hidden in many of his songs. Yip Harburg was an avid human rights champion and had to weather blacklisting during the McCarthy era.
As I was building the index for this book (I get paid to index, but not to review), I really got to enjoy the rhythm of Harburg's interviewed voice with the lyrics to his songs. Alonso made these two elements flow nicely together, which I'm sure would have made Yip smile. :) She could have stuck to a straight narrative on Harburg's life and creative work, but I found him much more accessible in this interview format, mainly because he was just as clever and insightful in conversation as he was lyrically.
I remain proud to have made some small contribution to the story of the guy who wrote the lyrics to "Over the Rainbow," an iconic song and mythic cinematic story from my childhood.