How many of you recognize the name “Yip Harburg”? I would bet that your eyebrows just lifted into question marks and your brain rapidly went through its name directory but all to no avail. Yet, I would venture to say with great confidence that every one of you knows this man’s work.
E.Y. “Yip” Harburg was one of the most popular lyricists in the great American Song Book. He wrote the words for some of the most iconic songs in our history. Test your knowledge on these: “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “April in Paris,” “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe,” “Old Devil Moon,” or “Right as the Rain.” Ok. Still drawing a blank? Then how about all of the songs in the film, The Wizard of Oz? “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead,” “If I Only Had a Brain (a Heart, the Nerve)”? Of course you know his work!
In 2012, Wesleyan University Press published my book, Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist. The press had asked me to write a book for their series on Music and Interviews. Would I use any and all interviews I could locate on Yip and create a narrative around them? I told them that I was in no way an expert on music theory or structure. Just a fan. They knew that, they said. They were asking me because of my writings on peace movement history. I had always wanted to work on a project around Yip and so jumped at the chance. With some help from Yip’s son, Ernie Harburg, who allowed me free access to Yip’s archives at the Yip Harburg Foundation in New York City, I chose a somewhat biographical take on Yip as a human rights activist who used his tremendous talent and intellect to write scripts and lyrics that addressed world peace, civil and human rights, economic justice, and runaway greed.
After the book came out, the embroiderer’s side of me led me to do a bargello piece on Yip and the book. I call it Bargello Oz and it is pictured above. The piece is a 12” x 12” representational abstract of The Wizard of Oz and what I call an “Homage to Paternayan Persian Yarn,” which at the time seemed to be on its way out. Stitched on 13 mesh canvas, the design shows the yellow brick road, the field of poppies, the Emerald City, and the rainbow. Now it hangs on my wall and always reminds me of the hard work and fun I had in putting together both a book about Yip and a needlepoint celebration of his work.
Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist is available in hard cover and in a kindle version. You out there who admire Yip’s work might enjoy it.