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Judy Collins' Note to On Point; More Rainbow Connections

Yip Harburg is seen on a U.S. postage stamp bearing the lyrics of "Over The Rainbow." (AP)

We were joined today by Judy Collins, the legendary folk artist whose take on Over The Rainbow is as evocative as the one sung by the other Judy — Judy Garland herself.

(See the bottom of this post for Collins’ note after the show.)

It turns out Collins is closer to the song than we had realized.

We had already come across the fact that Garland is, according to her mother, named after Judy Garland (her father says she’s named after a Biblical Judith).

But we didn’t know she was close friends with Yip Harburg, the lyricist who wrote the words to Over The Rainbow.

Collins told Tom:

I got to know Yip after I recorded one of his other most famous songs, “Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?” He and I became friends in the middle 70’s. He kept saying, “You have to sing my other most famous song, Over The Rainbow”.

Harburg explained to Collins how he argued with the producers of The Wizard Of Oz over whether the song would even be included in the movie. After being taken out at least once, it was included, though without the bridge Harburg had written for it.

The version she sings today contains that bridge, beginning “When all the world is a hopeless jumble/ And the raindrops tumble all around,” just as Harburg originally intended.

Ultimately, Collins said, her version of Over The Rainbow isn’t really meant to bear any sign of their friendship. She had her own relationship to the song, independent from Harburg.

“I believe the song has a life of its own and when it lands in a singer’s life, it merges into the personality of the singer,” she said. ”The song transmutes itself and adapts itself. That’s, of course, the sign of a great song.”

Update: After the show, Collins posted the following note in the On Point comment thread:

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. Pavarotti 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.

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