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Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist [Hardcover]

Harriet Hyman Alonso

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Book Description

Dec 3 2012 Music/Interview
Known as “Broadway’s social conscience,” E. Y. Harburg (1896–1981) wrote the lyrics to the standards, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” “April in Paris,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” as well as all of the songs in The Wizard of Oz, including “Over the Rainbow.” Harburg always included a strong social and political component to his work, fighting racism, poverty, and war. Interweaving close to fifty interviews (most of them previously unpublished), over forty lyrics, and a number of Harburg’s poems, Harriet Hyman Alonso enables Harburg to talk about his life and work.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.

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Review

“In this detailed, entertaining account, Alonso gives life to a courageous man and artist who risked it all for some simple human truth.” —Publishers Weekly

“The book is far more lively and less politically earnest than its title suggests. In fact, it is downright chatty, being essentially a sort of oral history Alonso crafted out of nearly 50 published and unpublished transcripts of radio and television broadcasts, speeches, roundtables, and conversations in which Harburg participated over the years.”—James M. Keller, Pasatiempo

“an excellent introduction to the artist.”—Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal

“…a good portrait of that picturesque leprechaun of a fellow who followed a crock of gold past that paper moon to somewhere over the rainbow.”—Steven Suskin, Playbill

Review

“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)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I great concept makes a great book April 7 2013
By Ken B. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ms. Alonso's concept was to let Harburg's words speak for themselves. My only caveat is that Harburg often changed his stories on whim and that might have been nice. But overall it's an excellent book, a fun read, and an important addition to musical theatre literature. Oh, one other complaint -- what a terrible title. It makes the book sound much dryer than it actually is.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Grandish Book Jan. 19 2013
By Lee Gelber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have been a Yip Harburg fan for many years. The wit, intelligence and emotional appeal of his lyrics have haunted me in a most positive way. Professor Alonso wrote a splendid biography incorporating interviews with the late Mr. Harburg and included some of his finest and most memorable lyrics. I immediately sent Professor Alonso a letter of appreciation
4.0 out of 5 stars A great interweaving of profile and lyric Aug. 21 2013
By Joanne E. Sprott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Before reading this book, I just knew that I loved the Wizard of Oz and its songs, not knowing, really, who had written them (maybe a vague reference to Harold Arlen, the composer, in my head, but lyricists often go less recognized).
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars A book.. and a man.. to be remembered April 11 2013
By Davis Gloff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Yip Harburg was a lyricist, poet and social activist, who always found a way to inject his feeling for the common person into his work. Born in 1896, he had a successful electrical supply business, but it was destroyed by the depression, and that was when he called an old school chum of his and told him that he was going to turn his hobby of writing light verse into a profession of writing lyrics for songs. The friend's response was "About time." The friend was Ira Gershwin, and they remained friends all life long.

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.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars BORING-BORING-BORING Aug. 14 2013
By HOWARD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
THE WRITER I AM SURE DID EXHAUSTIVE RESEARCH, BUT THE AMOUNT OF PAGES TAKEN UP WITH THE WRITING OF EACH INDIVIDUAL SONG WAS BORING.HOW DO YOU SPEND A WHOLE CHAPTER ON " BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME" THEN TAKE THE NEXT SONG & SPEND AN ENTIRE CHAPTER ON THAT LYRIC.THE ENTIRE BOOK IS LIKE THE FIRST 2 CHAPTERS. I WAS INTERESTED IN READING ABOUT YIP HARBURG'S LIFE BUT I DIDN'T PLAN ON LIVING IT WITH HIM, MINUTE BY MINUTE.

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