E. Y. "Yip" Harburg (April 8, 1896 - March 5, 1981) was a lyricist who worked with many well-known composers.
Born Isidore Hochberg to immigrant Jewish parents on the Lower East Side of New York, his name was changed to Edgar Yipsel Harburg. He is best known by his nickname, Yip Harburg: Yipsel means squirrel in Yiddish. He attended Townsend Harris High School, where he and Ira Gershwin, who met over a shared fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan, worked on the school paper and became life-long friends. They went on to attend City College (later part of the City University of New York) together.
After graduating university, Harburg spent three years in Uruguay to avoid involvement in WWI, which he opposed as a committed socialist. There he worked as a journalist. After the war he returned to New York, married and had two children and started writing light verse for local newspapers. He became co-owner of Consolidated Electrical Appliance Company. The company went bankrupt following the crash of 1929, leaving Harburg "anywhere from $50,000 - $70,000 in debt,"1 which he insisted on paying back over the course of the next few decades. At this point, Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg agreed that Yip should start writing songs.
Gershwin introduced Harburg to Jay Gorney, who collaborated with him on songs for a Broadway review (Earl Carroll's Sketchbook): the show was successful and Harburg was engaged as lyricist for a series of successful reviews, including Americana in 1932, for which he wrote the lyrics of Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? to the tune of a lullaby Gorney had learned as a child in Russia. This song swept the nation, becoming an anthem of the Great Depression.
Harburg and Gorney were offered a contract with Paramount: in Hollywood, Harburg worked with composers Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Jerome Kern, Jule Styne, and Burton Lane, and wrote the lyrics for The Wizard of Oz for which he won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
"So anyhow, Yip also wrote all the dialogue in that time and the setup to the songs and he also wrote the part where they give out the heart, the brains and the nerve, because he was the final script editor. And he - there was eleven screenwriters on that. And he pulled the whole thing together, wrote his own lines and gave the thing a coherence and unity which made it a work of art. But he doesn’t get credit for that. He gets lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, you see. But nevertheless, he put his influence on the thing." - Ernie Harburg, Yip's biographer 2
During the McCarthy era, from about 1951 to 1962, Yip Harburg was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist when movie studio bosses blacklisted industry people for their left-wing political activity. No longer able to work in Hollywood, he returned to Broadway, where he began to write a series of book musicals with social messages, including the quite successful Bloomer Girl (1944) (about suffragette and abolitionist Dolly Bloomer), Finian's Rainbow (1947) (perhaps the first Broadway musical with a racially integrated chorus line, featuring Harburg's "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich."), and Jamaica, which featured Lena Horne.
Harburg was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1972.
In April 2005, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp recognizing his accomplishments. The stamp depicts him from a portrait taken by photographer Barbara Bordnick in 1978 along with a rainbow and lyric from Over the Rainbow. The first day ceremony was held at the 92nd Street Y in New York.