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Judy Collins on "Over the Rainbow"
Judy Collins

Judy Collins

1939. The country was struggling with Depression. The Wizard of Oz was just out.

“Over the Rainbow” was a huge hit. And singer Judy Collins was born.

She was named for Judy Garland. “Dorothy” in the movie. Now, at 71, Judy Collins – folk-era icon and pal of Baez, Dylan, Richie Havens – is singing “somewhere over the rainbow” herself.

This hour On Point: Judy Collins, on life – and one great classic.


Judy Collins, legendary singer who has been performing for over fifty years.  Her new album, just out, is “Paradise.”  Also just out is the new children’s book, “Over the Rainbow,” with lyrics from the classic song and illustrations by Eric Puybaret.  The book is accompanied by a CD of Judy Collins performing “Over the Rainbow,” along with two other songs.

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  • Brian Gaidry

    Hello, Tom. I loved your show with Robert Kapilow, who explained what makes the song, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” so great. I’ve heard that song with new ears ever since. I look forward to reading Judy Collins’ book and perhaps seeing this classic song with new eyes as well.

  • Rosalinda

    I’ll miss the airing of Judy this a.m., as I have a 10 o’clock meeting – but can’t wait to hear the stream of this broadcast this afternoon. Judy Collins has a beautiful voice – no matter what song she sings.

  • Phil Bregitzer

    I grew up listening to my Dad’s music (classical and folk) and have spent the rest of my life listening avidly to all sorts of music. When I was about 6 he entrusted me with his collection of 78′s which included some real gems (I still regret shattering “Hold that Tiger” by Les Paul and Mary Ford). I remember clearly the very first record I bought for myself–a 45 with Both Sides Now with, I think, Bring in the Clowns on the B side. This was followed by hundreds of other purchases of records and now CDs, and Judy Collins was the start of it all!

  • Steve T

    I love her voice, and hate to be a critic but this is a favorite of mine I play it on flute. I didn’t feel the piano as accompaniment but a distraction.
    Still I give it a 9. for her rendition and flavor.

  • Michelle

    This song always gets me so choked up. It’s such a melancholy song. If only I were somewhere else (a place that doesn’t exist) things would be better I could be happy and my dreams might actually come true.

  • Rachel

    Every time I hear Somewhere Over the Rainbow , no matter the version I smile. I danced with my father to this song at my wedding :)

  • Cath G

    A caller to the show mentioned Eva Cassidy’s version of “Over the Rainbow” and Ms. Collins never answered the question if she had listened to it or not. If not, she absolutely should if she loves this song as much as she claims. As far as many devotees to this particular song are concerned, there can never be a version as true to the songs essence as what Evan Cassidy sang, it is a must hear!

  • Toby W

    Thank you for this show. Thank you, too, to Judy Collins for bringing “Over the Rainbow” to the forefront in a new age. I’m delighted your caller mentioned Eva Cassidy’s recording. In my mind, it is one of the most exquisite and poignant versions of the song ever done.

  • http://bikexprt.com John S. Allen

    Could Judy please comment on issues of aging and maintaining her voice? Joan Baez has described that she works very hard to maintain her voice. Judy’s voice if anything, better than 40 years ago. To what extent is this due to vocal training and exercise and to what degree to recording technology? Judy’s intonation in “Over the Rainbow” is spot-on, though I recall it as wavering a bit early in her career; does she use pitch adjustment technology?

    And could she talk about the conductor who was her Antonia Brico, her mentor? Judy was invovled in making a movie about her — I just found it on YouTube…

  • Jan in Nashville

    In the 1980s, I was a working sign language interpreter and was privileged to sign the part of Dorothy for a community theater production of “Wizard of Oz”. As familiar as I already was with the song, doing it in sign language added a layer of visual beauty that can still move me to near tears.

    I also taught sign language classes and near the end of each course, I’d teach them to sign some simple songs. Although Over the Rainbow was a bit beyond beginners, Judy’s version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” was perfect. Still one of my favorites.

    Judy Collins has one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever heard. Hearing her sing must be what it’s like to hear bells ring in heaven.

  • j.c. frank

    judy is right about “it’s the singer not the song.” her version of “in my life” from the beatles rubber soul album really opened me up to the song’s beauty. i always liked the original version, but judy’s version transformed the song for me. i heard it fully for the first time. since then it has been my all time favorite song. of course, she does a great job on “over the rainbow,” too

  • Nellie

    I have never not known Judy Collins’s voice–I remember singing along to her third and fifth albums as a three-year-old! (I sang “Hey Nelly Nelly” on my first day of kindergarten to introduce myself.) Her records taught me what a singer should sound like. So, thank you for being my first voice teacher! :-)

  • Michael Gillis

    Great show – could Ms. Collins comment on the iconic nature of this song to the gay community. In many ways, this was and remains THE anthem for the gay community. Thanks!

  • Carol Crawford

    Every year I have bluebirds fledge and often I see the young bluebirds actually fly over a rainbow. it’s always so wonderful.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Judy Collins’ voice has spoiled me, I’m realizing. I really prefer it to so many others. I don’t go fishing for music, and never have. If someone played a Collins song (in the 1960s), I was glad. Maybe especially happy because those songs are in such an accessible range, but I only quietly hum. Don’t want to drown out that gorgeous voice.
    Don’t play the other voices. Where is Send in the Clowns …

  • Richard Johnson

    In the 70′s a short film was made about the building of I-40 through the Appalachians, “The Coming of the Road.” The only soundtrack was the song. I assume it was made with Judy Collins approval. I have never been able to find it. Any idea where that film is available?

  • Molly

    Listening to Judy Collins calls to mind my brother, back in the Sixties, driving us all crazy because he danced with Judy in one of the clubs in Newport. He was insufferable. Thank you for bringing such wonderful memories to mind this morning. Great show.

  • Dana Franchitto

    Okay look, I don’t mind the song”Over the Rainbow” but why does this show featuring the wonderful legacy of Judy Collins have to be anchored around a Hollywood fabricated song?
    What really saddens me is that Ms Collins and her colleagues were taking music in a new direction ,even with traditional songs. So why does she follow down the commercial path to the “Great American Songbook’ as so many have done? What happened to her independent free spirit?(not that she’s alone)I also am sad that ON Point chose to indulge in a fairy tale rather than allow any critical inquiry into this.

  • Jim Hetrick

    I heard Judy in concert once at The Bushnell Auditorium In Hartford. She stepped out on the stage, and there was a problem with the sound system. She stopped the show immediately, and graciously told the audience that she would leave the stage for a few minutes while the system was being repaired. 10 minutes later, she reappeared and performed the entire concert flawlessly. Such class!
    Afterwards, I hung around the stage door, and when she appeared, she smiled at me and graciously signed my program! I was on Cloud Nine!

  • Kathy

    Hi, In 1969 you were to perform in Boston. A guy I worked with was rather fat and homely and he invited me to the concert. I didn’t have the heart to say no, so we went and were seated and the concert was cancelled due to voice problems! A very sad long ride home followed. We never got a refund, and he never asked me out again.

  • Lyn

    I feel blessed to have been able to see Judy at the Newport folk festival last year! I hadn’t realized how amazing she is until I saw her live….especially with Joan Baez. Just watching her interact Roth the fdms was beautiful, she has touched so many lives!

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you, Tom, for this wonderful hour with Judy Collins. I am treating myself to a copy of “Paradise” today and burning copies for my mom and my friends! Your interviewing style was the perfect compliment to her grand, but all-so-real presence.

  • Larry Fox

    One thing I’ve particularly appreciated about Judy Collins, in addition to her talent, was how she helped open up musical doors to the music of Sandy Denny, the Farinas, Leonard Cohen, the Incredible String Band, Joni Mitchell, etc., etc. Many of these artists were barely known when she first recorded their music. We caught her show at the “Egg” in Albany last year. Excellent.

  • Brett

    I agree with Collins about the introductory verse in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It gives the chorus part more impact and does set the stage for more drama in the song. I feel the song has more power with that part included.

    It is encouraging to hear an older voice (sorry for no more polite a way of putting it) so well taken care of, and even stronger and more seasoned than it used to sound. In this age of either no regard for vocal tone, or too much emphasis on tone and things like vibrato (or lack thereof) it is refreshing to hear a singer balance those technical aspects of singing. Ms. Collins, for example, seems to have such a strong vibrato but doesn’t display it simply for athletic prowess show.

    I personally have a style where I rely on vibrato more in the middle of a phrase then at the end, but I appreciate other approaches.

  • http://www.amybmacdonald.com Amy MacDonald

    Hello Tom & Judy,
    Thanks for a great interview. Judy, when I think of how I came to appreciate the power of a song, I think of when my music teacher played “Both Sides Now” for our music class and we talked extensively about how meaningful lyrics could be. We later attempted to sing a choral version of it, though I think that never made it to the stage. Can you imagine a bunch of 8th-graders trying to hit those notes? This also made us appreciate your voice all the more.

  • Brett

    Speaking of “Both Sides, Now,” Collins’ recording helped give Joni MItchell some extra exposure and familiarity to a broader audience; it also helped expose people to groups like Fairport Convention.

  • ian brookes

    On the quality of Judy’s voice – she uses an extremely subdued vibrato, almost as if it’s squeezing itself out from under the main note. This gives her voice a quality parallel to, but not strictly comparable to, the boy soprano voice; that “untrained” sound, which is probably what we as humans relate to on a primal level, rather than the fine-tuned instrument of, for example, a Barbara Cook or Helen Merrill.

    Someone asked the question of voice coaching, which I had in mind to ask. It’s interesting to hear Judy say how long she has been studying with one coach, and yet has retained the “low vibrato”, I refer to above.

    Judy talked of her close relationship with Joan Baez; I would like to know how her relationship to Joni Mitchell has evolved through the years, considering she made such an impact early on with “Joni songs”.

    And – O! those cheek bones! And those shoulder blades!!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/betahifi?feature=chclk Phil Saviano

    Hi Tom and other readers -

    I don’t know if Judy mentioned it, but her YouTube channel is being run right from here in Boston. The channel name is BetaHiFi, and we’ve got over 130 performance and interview clips of her going back to 1963. Thus far, we have logged over 3.6 million viewings from fans all over the world.

    I used to produce Judy’s annual concerts at Boston’s Symphony Hall in the 1980s and early 90s, which is one of the reasons I had amassed such a collection of video clips, great for TV promotional use in those days. But now, with YouTube, we are reaching a new, much broader audience, and picking up some new, young fans, too. I say “we” because Judy is now contributing some rare videos from her archives, too.

    We are looking for video clips from the 1970s. If you have any, please contact me through the YouTube channel.

    Phil Saviano

  • Christina

    I have been a fan of Judy Collins for 45 years – what a wonderful interview! She spoke so lovingly of some of the old songs that have touched her, compelling her to record them, and wanted Judy to know it was always my impression that everything she did record touched her – that she never recorded anything that didn’t have personal meaning to her.

    Judy, thank you for all the music you have shared – I have loved listening to you for so long and look forward to having your latest album.

    And, even though I psuedo-envied your relationship with Stephen Stills (he was the main reason I went to Woodstock) I look forward to reading your book and will love you forever.

  • AJ North

    A vivid memory from boyhood is of a public service advertisement from a NYC television station in 1969 showing inner-city slums and appealing for tolerance; the soundtrack was a woman singing a refrain of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” from Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” A few years later I again heard that same voice; it was singing “Both Sides Now” – and was, of course, Judy Collins.

  • Tommy Peterson

    As someone who usually enjoys On Point and who loves the music of both Judy Collins and Harold Arlen, I was taken aback by the smarmy tone of today’s interview. What, you never got over your boyhood crush, Tom? Could you have been any more gushingly sycophantic? Still titillated by the romance between Judy C. and Steve Stills? One expects a friendly encounter on a subject such as this, but the treacle was awfully sticky.

  • Kathleen Stringfield

    Thank you so much for having Eva Cassidy’s version. I’m sorry Ms. Collins can’t acknowledge the quality. I’m with the caller who thinks this is one of the really great versions, which enriches my life regularly.

  • http://www.johnedwardbrooks.com john

    What a joy to listen to Judy Collins on your show today! At 32 years old, I’m probably younger than most of her fans, but she has been a great part of my musical life. I was fortunate enough to see her perform at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London a couple of years ago – her voice is as good (or better!) as it ever was! What a beauty.

  • Brett

    ian brookes,
    I didn’t hear the broadcast, but I was referring to her using vibrato sparingly (yet she sounds as if she could really push it if she wanted to, as joan Baez does who would, in her younger years, put it on display at the end of each phrase, as if to say, “listen to my vibrato”). This seems a choice on Collins’ part. “I good musician will not use a technique simply because they can,” I guess was my compliment to her.

    Cook, known for her musical theatre style, and Merrill, more known for her Jazz style, would interpret a song differently than Collins using their vocal styles and techniques in different ways. It’s difficult to compare singers, you would probably agree. Opera singers use their voices in more strict ways, not necessarily because they are better trained or have better technique (although some simply do) but because that is what the music calls for, how it was written.

    If Collins studies with a vocal coach, it seems to give evidence that the way she uses vibrato is a choice.

    I relate this to, let’s say, visual art: Dali could have painted like the masters, as could have Picasso, but they decided to use early talent and training to go in a different direction, to convey emotions in different ways and not because of any lack of abilities.

    Billie Holiday used vibrato when she first began but made a conscious decision to drop it very early on (and was criticized for it by some); as she aged, drugs and alcohol may have influenced Billie’s approach, but she clearly made a decision early on based on a sound she deliberately wanted by dropping her vibrato.

    I used to use vibrato more than I do now, and it is to convey emotion in a different way.

  • Brett

    I’ll have to listen to the broadcast. It sounds as though Eva Cassidy was mentioned; she was a local favorite before she became famous. I used to see Cassidy in small clubs before she was known; so sad her presence in the music world ended so tragically and early.

    …It is interesting to hear differing perceptions of the interview that stand out aside from wanting to extol the virtues of being a fan.

  • http://www.harryjb.us Harry Jacobson-Beyer

    Until a few years ago it was my opinion, Judy Garland owned Over The Rainbow. I never heard a version of the song that moved me like Garland’s version. No one could evoke the wistfulness, longing, and ultimately the hope that Garland does with the song.

    Then a few years ago I heard, on Public Radio, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of Rainbow and I was captivated and believed he, too, owned the song. For me he evokes those same feelings.

    Now today, I heard Judy Collins version and I am blown away. Her rendition is so evocative! I am moved and can’t wait to get her Paradise Album.


  • Eliezer Pennywhistler

    1) Thank you, Brian Gaidry, for pointing me to the Robert Kapilow show (and for spelling his name right). Thank you WBUR for archiving it.

    2) Kathy, be so kind as to tell us what the point of your story was.

    3) Kathleen Stringfield – I didn’t hear Ms. Collins say that. Her comment was about how great it was that different singers have taken the song and made it their own. Two sentences after noting that Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Rainbow” was captivating and he, too, owned the song.

    4) Dana Franchitto, the trouble with commenting on something you didn’t actually listen to is that you end up looking like an idiot.

    Ms. Collins did NOT follow down the commercial path to the “Great American Songbook’ — unless you think “Amazing Grace” is in that songbook. Or Tim Buckley’s song is in there. Or Amy Speace’s anti-war song “Weight of the World” is in there

    As to “a Hollywood fabricated song”, every song is bought and paid for, one way or another – whether fit’s a royal court composer, Tin Pan Alley song plugger, album producer, or TV commercial maker. Or can you name great songs that NOT created for some recompense or another? Even “Happy Birthday To You” is still copyrighted. And with YIP Harburg you are talking about one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century.

  • http://www.lit.org/author/fritzwilliam F. William Bracy

    The most famous person to have no talent at all could be … no, IS … Judy Collins. No breath support — all falsetto … most likely never to have been coached or having taken voice training of any kind. I could never understand how people could achieve fame and riches when they’re capable of no more than the average Joe or Jane on the street.

  • Dana Franchitto

    To Eliezer Pennywhistle,
    HI Eliezer, Dana here. I’m glad ,her carreer is still going strong , and I’m glad ,she’s doping more anti-war songs. But come on , the show was anchored on “over the Rainbow”-a nice song but sort of holloywoodish What can I say, send in the clowns

  • http://annbrady.ca Ann Brady

    Hi Mr. Ashbrook,

    For some wonderful reason, I could not get my usual radio station on Thursday morning. To my delight, your show came through – I’d never heard it before or even knew of WBUR. What a pleasure your interview of Judy Collins was! This grand dame of folk music still has all the verve and grace of her early days, the mark of a true artist. Thank you for bringing her out of herself so beautifully.

    Ann Brady
    Winchester, Ontario, Canada

  • John M

    I’m a big fan of Judy Collins and have been for years. As for Somewhere Over The Rainbow, I have to say that I’ve heard so many versions that it is difficult to say which is best.

    What I love about Judy is that she also is mentoring some amazing talents, including Amy Speace.

  • Steve Rachman

    Judy Collins erroneously recalled an anecdote about the composition of “Over The Rainbow” by Arlen and Harburg. It was not Irving Berlin who supplied the coda, it was Ira Gershwin who offered the “If Happy Little Bluebirds fly…can’t I?” and Harburg liked it and accepted it. I believe this took place in Los Angeles.

  • http://JudyCollins.com Judy Collins

    Hi, I am so grateful for all these amazing comments,–very much appreciated being able to do speak to Tom about so many things, including the history of “Over the Rainbow.” Even as I said it, I was sure I had mixed up Irving Berlin with Ira Gershwin–last night I was ordering books online and calling my musical friends to check this story out, and about the time I was on Google, Steve, the most recent post, was sending the correct information. I was also buying Ira Gershwin’s “Lyrics on Several Occasions,” for I have lost my old copy, and he has many wonderful stories about the writing, re-writing and fussing among lyricist and composers about many songs he and his brother George wrote together. Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to correct this error on my part–also I apologize for saying that Berlin had died young– in fact, he died at 101!
    It was great fun and very educational to be on Tom’s program and yes, I like the version of Over the Rainbow by Eva Cassidy very much, though I did not say so in so many words. I was trying to get to the issue–that I feel that Over the Rainbow, like many other truly great songs, helps each artist who sings it make the most of their individual qualities, all of which are so different. I thought Tom’s choice of the versions he played was also right on the money. Thanks again, everyone.
    Pavoratti has said, after being present when his uncle stood up and cheered for Gheli, (the great Italian Singer fro the last century,) and his father sat in his seat, grumping that Gheli was a no-talent bum, “No matter what you do, half the people will love you and half the people will hate you!” I am glad some of my half were listening.
    I thank you, Tom, for a wonderful experience.

  • Anne O’Brien

    As an Eva Cassidy fan, I must say that Judy’s version was lovely. It is really moving. Judy has always been a great singer and interpreter. Nonetheless, no one will ever compare to the sheer majesty of Eva Cassidy’s version. Judy: you have fine competition.

  • gina

    Eva Cassidy’s truly inimitable version:

  • http://bronwynfryer.com Bronwyn Fryer

    Dear Judy and Tom,

    Thanks so much, and belatedly, for a wonderful interview. Tom, you are always smart, and Judy, you are always graceful. And thanks for being a great voice teacher for me, as well.

    Mr. Bracy understands RIEN.

    love to both of you,

  • Jaytlr9

    Very nice interview.   About the verse of “Rainbow,” however, my understanding was that the verse was written after the movie came out, and was written primarily because the music publisher wanted more.  This is my understanding of the verses of many songs like “Over the Rainbow.” But if Yip Harburg said differently, then I suppose it was true. One thing I’d like to add about Judy Garland’s version is that, in addition to being just sixteen when she introduced it, she no doubt had very little creative control over it, nor did she have any other version to compare it to.  She took the plunge on her own.  

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