E. Y. “Yip” Harburg 1896-1981

E. Y. “Yip” Harburg

God made the world in six days flat,
On the seventh, He said, “I’ll rest,”
So He let the thing into orbit swing,
To give it a dry-run test.

A billion years went by, then He
Took a look at the whirling blob;
His spirits fell, as He shrugged, “Ah well,
It was only a six-day job.”

“Back to the Drawing Board”, E. Y. Harburg

Edgar Yipsel (nicknamed “Yip”) Harburg was the lyricist for The Wizard of Oz and Finian’s Rainbow. He also wrote the lyrics for Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?, April in Paris, and dozens if not hundreds of other songs.

I suspect that Yip and I agreed about practically nothing in politics, religion, or anything else but, if there’s a heaven (which Yip most definitely denied), he’s certainly one of the people I’d like to meet there.

Today would have been his 110th birthday. Rest in peace, Yipsel.

4 comments… add one
  • Helene Plotkin Link

    First off, the correct title of Yip Harburg’s depression standard is, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
    Look it up. It’s embarrassing to have a Yip Harburg blog with the title of his immortal song wrong.
    I used to live in Riverdale,NY and had to move to New Jersey (depressing) and the local paper wrote about a concert given by Pete Seeger. During the concert, Seeger sang “Over the Rainbow” and had the audacity to change the lyrics–instead of “why, oh why can’t I?” he instead used the phrase “you and I.” Seeger said he found the original lyric “too self-centered.”
    Obviously, Seeger has no idea what kind a socially conscious person, Mr. Harburg was.
    I tried to contact the Yip Harburg Foundation, EMI (rights) and others about my concerns–so far to no avail.
    I don’t think that Mr. Harburg’s lyrics should be changed just because of an entertainer’s whims. In fact, is it legal?
    I wish I knew what to do. Do you?
    Let me know. Helene Plotkin

  • Why thank you, Helene. Corrected.

    I suspect that Pete Seeger considers it a folk song and a fair target for his amendments. I wonder how he views his own compositions.

    If the heirs don’t seek to enforce their rights, there’s probably little that can be done. I know that Richard Rodgers used to routinely complain (and get results) about changes to his compositions.

  • More on the Pete Seeger/copyrights issue:

    I’ve done a little quick research and I think that, while Pete Seeger has a strong sense of what he’d probably consider justice, his sense of legality isn’t nearly as finely attuned.

  • Helene Plotkin Link

    Thanks for your reply. When I lived in Riverdale I was the entertainment reporter for the Riverdale Press and was tuned into all the non-profit happenings going on in the Bronx, NYC and Westchester.
    In fact, the Donnell Library used to have a Yip Harburg film festival. One session featured his son and grandson singing his songs. The movies all concerned socially relevant issues.
    I wanted to send the article to one of his heirs, but hit a roadblock.
    Life here in Jersey is about not getting lost. I don’t do highways, just byways.
    Take care of yourself, while I return to life on the other side of the bridge. Helene Plotkin

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