Nora's News ~ April
of the Century"
Last month the National Endowment for the Arts, along with the Recording Industry Association of America, collaborated in a nation-wide poll to find the "Songs of the Century". I won't go into the details of how this assessment was made. That being said....
FLASH!!! THE TOP 3 SONGS OF THE CENTURY ARE:
1. Somewhere Over the Rainbow
2. White Christmas
...and coming in at number 3: This Land Is Your Land
I was curious to find out more about Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and it's writers, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. It's always been one of my favorite songs but I confess, I didn't know anything about the writers. I asked Harold Leventhal what he knew about it. Harold's been in the business for a long time and worked with such legends as Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman and many, many others before deciding to become the business manager for the-soon-to-be-blacklisted Weavers in the 1950's and manager/producer of such prominent artists as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Jacques Brel, Miriam Makeba, and so many others. I knew he'd have the real scoop.
He had more than the scoop. He had a book...
Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz? (The University of Michigan Press, 1995) was given to him by Yip Harburg's son, Ernie Harburg, who co-authored the book with Harold Meyerson. I started reading....
Yip Harburg (1896-1981) wrote the lyrics to Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Harold Arlen composed the music. Together, they wrote all the material for The Wizard of Oz. At the onset, I found this quote:
"Songs have been the not-so-secret weapon behind every fight for freedom, every struggle against injustice and bigotry: "The Marseillaise," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "We Shall Overcome," and many more...." -Yip Harburg
Pretty strong words for a guy who wrote.... musicals! But it had an uncanny resemblance to Woody's sentiments in an essay titled "Big Guns" (Pastures of Plenty, Harper Perennial 1990, Dave Marsh & Harold Leventhal editors):
"Music is a weapon, the same as a gun, and can be used by the slave just the same as by the big boss." WG
My curiosity peaked, I returned to my reading.
"Songs are the pulse of a nation's heart. A fever chart of its health. Are we at peace? Are we in trouble? Are we floundering? Do we feel beautiful? Do we feel ugly?....Listen to our songs....The lyricist, like any artist,
cannot be neutral. He should be committed to the side of humanity." -YH
Wow! I looked back over at "Big Guns"....
"Songs are a good way to say what you got to say about work, wages, school, cats, love, marriage, keeping house, or doctor bills. If the fight gets hot, the songs get hotter. If the going get tough, the songs get tougher." WG
Hmmm....a lot of similarities here! I read on and learned that:
Following the success of The Wizard of Oz, Harburg went on to create the Broadway hit Finian's Rainbow, a story founded in social protest.
"Finian grew from Yip's anger at the violent opposition to the fledgling black equality movement of the war years - specifically, his anger at the virulent racism expressed daily in Congress by Mississippi's Senator Theodore Bilbo and Representative John Rankin...." Ernie Harburg
Hey! Wait a second! Isn't that the very same Rankin Woody refers to in his lyric "Eisler on the Go", recorded by Billy Bragg on the Mermaid Avenue CD?
".....Finian begins as an attack on racism and capitalism with a countervailing praise for cooperative human endeavor. Finian is surely the only American musical written in the shadow of Marx on the fetishism of commodities (but then, Yip was the only lyricist/librettist who included in his circle of friends the editors of the Marxist economics journal Monthly Review)". EH
Now I'm really intrigued! Back to Woody:
"A song will shoot straighter than a long bore 32-20, and do more damage than the biggest cannon. The crooked politicians know this. That's why they pay actors and actresses such ungodly wages to put out this crap and corruption that you see smeared across the movie screen, the radio, the phonograph, newspapers, and magazines. Who makes the most, a worker in a cannon factory, or a movie worker? It would take ten dozen munitions workers ten years to make as much as Crosby rolls in in a little while." WG
Crosby?! This is weird. That's the guy who made Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" (#2 on the list) famous?! Now, pay attention! This is where the story gets really bizarre....!!
Of the three main characters in Finian;
"Woody, the union organizer-troubador was modeled after Woody Guthrie...." EH
Wowie kazowie!!! I'm freaking out at this point!!! I wonder if they ever met? I wonder how Harburg knew of Woody?
".... real political wars were blazing away, and Yip wanted to participate - not merely, like his peers, as a financial contributor, nor simply as the writer of political theater songs. He needed to enter politics as Yip Harburg, to write songs that had, as near as practicable, immediate political impact." EH
I can't help but remember something else my dad wrote:
"Don't swap this raw sunshine for too much stage light. The fight is here lots more than on the stage." WG
Yip Harburg united the worlds of Broadway and Woody Guthrie. Then he was blacklisted. One worked under the stage light, the other under the sunlight.
I also had to laugh. The headlines could have read: FLASH!!!! BLACKLISTED ARTISTS GIVE US TWO OF THE TOP THREE SONGS OF THE CENTURY.
Congratulations to Yip Harburg. I always knew there was something about Somewhere Over the Rainbow.... now I know. It was you.
Nora Lee "learn-something-new-every-day" Guthrie
If you'd like to learn more about this wonderful man, Yip Harburg, check this book out: Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz? (The University of Michigan Press, 1995) Contains alphabetical list of Yip Harburg's Song Titles (537), a selected discography and selected bibliography.
Other songs by Yip Harburg include:
- April In Paris
- Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
- Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe
- How Are Things in Glocca Morra?
- Look To the Rainbow
- Lydia, the Tattooed Lady
- Old Devil Moon
- Paper Moon
A few months ago my pal Jimmy Lafave, Austin's
gravely voiced son, sent me a tape of a new song he'd
written called "Woody Guthrie". Now you
too can hear this beautiful ballad on his new rockin' CD TexOma
just out on BohemiaBeat Records or you can order it at: www.jimmylafave.com
Gotta get Gerhard for HDSA:
A special thanks goes to guitar virtuoso Ed Gerhard
for his rendition of "This Land" recorded
exclusively for a Huntington's Disease Society of
America public service announcement soundtrack. You can thank Ed too at: www.edgerhard.com
Rockin' with all shades of the left:
NEW YORK- I had a great night on Saturday, February 24th at
The Winston Unity Auditorium rocking with lefties
of all shades of opinions at a celebration of 60 years
of Woody Guthrie's music. The occasion was the anniversary
of the song "This Land" and a fundraiser for
the Domino Sugar strikers of ILA Local 1814. For coverage of the nights activites read the People's Weekly World, March 10th issue or contact: www.cpusa.org
Man In The Sand goes DVD:
On March 27, 2001 the film Man In The Sand was
released on DVD by Palm Pictures. This film documents
Billy Bragg's quest to learn more of Woody, his travels,
and those he came in contact with along the way. It takes the viewer
to Okemah, Oklahoma; Coney Island, New York; and into
the studios to record the Mermaid Avenue sessions. Check
out our Online
Catalog to purchase this DVD or VHS.
Woody Guthrie Tribute Concert!!!
SEATTLE, WA- The folks at Experience Music Project
and Washington State Historical
Society are hosting a Woody Guthrie tribute
concert in Benaroya Hall out in Seattle, WA on May 23,
2001. It will feature both local and national musicians
that will perform Woody Guthrie songs and original compositions.
The concert corresponds with the traveling exhibition
This Land Is Your Land: The Life and Legacy
of Woody Guthrie which is currently in Tacoma, WA.
The concert will benefit the Northwest Folklife Festival.
Smokebox.net featured an in-depth interview with audio restorationist
Doug Pomeroy of Brooklyn, NY. Doug worked on the
remastering of Woody's Dust Bowl Ballads for Buddha Records. He
goes into great detail on the techniques he used to pull out the
presence in Woody's original RCA recordings. For a complete
transcription go to www.smokebox.net
"California Stars" bats in the Minor League.
Minor League Baseball team - The High Desert Mavericks - picked "California Stars" as their theme song. The Mavericks
a Class A (California league) farm team of the Milwaukee Brewers
have announced they'll be using "California Stars" as
their theme song this season. The Maverick stadium (located in Adelanto,
California) received a strong reaction from fans when they played
the song after each game. So, it was decided that "California
Stars" would be played after each game this season. On WILCO
and about the team visit www.hdmavs.com
Just in from our Global FANS:
Nora und Billy Bragg präsentieren Woody Guthrie In: Vorträge und
Protokolle "Immer wieder wächst das Gras"
Festival des politischen Liedes Berlin 2000
Folker! Das Musikmagazin
"Von London in die Dust Bowl von Oklahoma"
Billy Bragg und Wilco singen Guthrie auf "Mermaid Avenue"
"Mit Wilco auf CD -Mit den Blokes auf Tour" Billy
Im Econ-Ullstein-List Verlag wird demnächst eine deutsche Ausgabe
von Joe Kleins Biographie "Woody Guthrie: A Life" erscheinen.
Wir werden Sie auf dem Laufenden halten.
In Italy ...
REGGIO EMILIA - On February 17, 400 people packed a small theater
in Reggio Emilia (Northern Italy) to honor the music
and poetry of Woody Guthrie. Passages from Woody's writings
were read by Alessandro Portelli while Maurizio Battelli
performed songs by Woody, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and others.
News of this event traveled, and other theaters throughout
Italy are contacting Professor Portelli to repeat the
program in their area. Gratzi!