30 Day Song Challenge, Day 24 – “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland

The subject for Day 24 of my 30-day Song Challenge is “A song from a movie you love“, and there was only choice for me – “Over the Rainbow“, sung by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. The 1939 classic has been my favorite film for my entire life, and I’ve seen it more than 50 times. Each time I watch it, it moves and excites me every bit as much as it did when I was a child, and I never grow tired of seeing it. There are so many great scenes and songs in the film, and one of the best of them all is when Garland, as young teenager Dorothy Gale, wistfully sings “Over the Rainbow” after being told by her Auntie Em to find “a place where you won’t get into any trouble“.

“Over the Rainbow” was written by composer Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Edgar “Yip” Harburg, who together wrote all the wonderful music and song lyrics for The Wizard of Oz. “Over the Rainbow” was the final song written for the film, as Arlen and Harburg had struggled to come up with an appropriate song for the Kansas farm scene that takes place early in the film. Harburg claimed his inspiration was “a ballad for a little girl who was in trouble and… wanted to get away from Kansas – a dry, arid, colorless place. She had never seen anything colorful in her life except the rainbow“. Arlen decided the idea needed “a melody with a long broad line“. (Walter Frisch (2017) Arlen and Harburg’s Over the Rainbow)

Shockingly, the song was initially deleted from the film at the direction of MGM chief Louis B. Mayer because he thought it slowed down the picture, was too far over the heads of its targeted child audience, and “sounded like something for Jeanette MacDonald, not for a little girl singing in a barnyard“. Mayer was clearly wrong on all counts, as Garland’s heartfelt, vulnerable vocals beautifully conveyed a young girl’s hopes and dreams of a better place, far away from her dull, troubled life. Though still only 16 when she recorded “Over the Rainbow”, Garland had a powerful, incredibly emotive vocal style beyond her tender years.

Director Victor Fleming, producer Mervyn LeRoy, associate producer Arthur Freed, and Garland’s vocal coach and mentor Roger Edens all joined together to fight to have the song reinserted into the film. Freed told Mayer “The song stays—or I go,” to which Mayer replied: “Let the boys have the damn song. Put it back in the picture. It can’t hurt.” (Gary Shapiro (2017) Columbia News)

For a song that almost didn’t happen, “Over the Rainbow” has become one of the most beloved songs of all time, leaving an indelible legacy for both The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland. It was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Song, and in 2001, was voted the greatest song of the 20th century in a joint survey by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. Numerous singers have recorded their own versions of the song, with one of the most popular being that of Hawaiian artist Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, who included “Over the Rainbow” in a beautifully moving ukulele medley with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”.

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 11: JUDY GARLAND – “The Man That Got Away”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song you wish you could witness live”, and my pick is “The Man That Got Away” by Judy Garland. Specifically, it’s her performance of the classic torch song at her legendary concert at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961, which many called “the greatest night in show business history”. Truth be told, I would like to have seen her perform any one of a number of her iconic songs at that show, but choose “The Man That Got Away” because of the incredible sense of vulnerability and heartbreak she conveys in her powerfully raw performance that really tears me up. By 1961, Garland had endured many difficulties, heartaches and setbacks in her life and career, and this show was a personal and professional triumph for her.

Judy Garland had a deep and resonant vocal style in the contralto range, characterized by a tremulous, powerful vibralto. Her voice was unparalleled, and in my opinion, she was one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th Century. In a piece he wrote for Turner Classic Movies, biographer Jonathan Riggs commented that Garland had a tendency to imbue her vocals with a seemingly contradictory combination of fragility and resilience that eventually became a signature trademark of hers. “Those who saw her perform live spoke of the experience in almost mystical terms, especially a comeback performance captured on the Grammy-winning Judy at Carnegie Hall, widely considered the greatest night in show business history. Literally giving her life for her art, Garland poured her soul out in every song, achieving immortality of the highest order and recognition as one of the greatest entertainers of all time.”

The recording from that show, which featured a full orchestra conducted by Mort Lindsey, was released as a two-record album Judy at Carnegie Hall in July 1961. The album became a best seller, spending 73 weeks on the Billboard album chart, 13 of them at #1. It won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Best Female Vocal Performance, Best Engineered Album, and Best Album Cover, and has never gone out of print  since its release 59 years ago! In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. (Wikipedia)

Here’s a famous scene from the 1954 version of A Star is Born where an awestruck Norman Maine, played by James Mason, watches Judy as Esther Blodgett perform the song at an after-hours club: