This Day in Jewish History / ‘Over the Rainbow’ Writer is Born

April 8, 1896, is the birth date of Edgar Yipsel Harburg, who, as “Yip” Harburg, wrote the lyrics to such songs as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” “April in Paris” and, most famously, “Over the Rainbow.” His long career as a writer and lyricist, which yielded some 600 songs for both film and stage, included a decade-long period when he was blacklisted in Hollywood for his allegedly radical politics.

Harburg was born Isidore Hochberg on New York’s Lower East Side, the youngest child of Orthodox Jewish parents who had emigrated from Russia. He attended high school with Ira Gershwin, who remained a friend and collaborator – they wrote light verse together for the school newspaper — and later City College, in New York. His nickname “Yip” was short for “Yipsel,” a phonetic spelling of the acronym for Young People’s Socialist League, whose ideology Harburg identified with. (Several biographies of Harburg say that “yipsel” is Yiddish for “squirrel,” and that Harburg was called that as a nickname because of his similarities to one, but it isn’t and he wasn’t.)


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