Harold Arlen Exhibition / Remembering Harold Arlen

The Buffalo beginnings of Harold Arlen remained with him throughout his life. Commentators and musicologists assessed Arlen as a complex and complete” composer, who created songs of outstanding cultural resonance that drew from multiple influences. He produced a unique Arlen sound” that stretched the form of popular music incorporating blues, jazz and other musical traditions as fully integrated elements. In his melodies were echoes of Buffalo: the cantorial inflections of his Jewish heritage, the multi-ethnic and multi-racial neighborhood soundscapes he inhabited, and his working experiences as a vocalist, performer and arranger, band organizer and manager.

As a young teen in Buffalo, Arlen left high school before graduation. Arlen initially believed he would be a singer, but also worked on broader aspects of his craft that would ultimately lead him to composition. True to his Buffalo roots, Arlen never fully abandoned performance, producing recordings of his own music as a vocalist as well as accompanying performers who made his music legendary. While star singers like Ethel Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, catapulted his music beyond his own name recognition, Arlen has been defined as a composers composer,” as the most original” creator, incapable of cliché,” who filled songs with melodic surprise.”

The East Side of Arlens childhood and the city venues where he began his performing career have disappeared. Family homes, the synagogues and the broader Jewish infrastructure of the East Side are gone. Arlens limited material artifacts are scattered in local archival collections at the Benjamin and Dr. Edgar R. Cofeld Judaic Museum, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library and the Buffalo History Museum. Yet, community celebrations grow year by year. His induction in 1997 in the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame and a commissioned portrait for the Western New York Entertainment Hall of Fame at Sheas Performing Art Center in 2001 both affirm him as an iconic figure in the music history of Buffalo, NY.

In Buffalo, performance venues emerge as the site in which Harold Arlen is most remembered and celebrated. Since the 1960s, Kleinhans Music Hall has hosted concerts featuring Arlens music. In 2005, a major concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, celebrated the 100th anniversary of his birth and coincided with similar concerts around the world. For more than eighty years audiences and participants have enjoyed his music in venues across Buffalo and Western New York. Lyricist E.Y. Yip” Harburg, co-creator of many hits with Arlen including Over the Rainbow,” suggested that his popularity remained timeless because, His songs live. His songs seep into the heart of  a people, a nation, of a world and stay there.”

Harold Arlen has won many national honors, including:

  • Academy Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture for Over The Rainbow from the movie The Wizard of Oz
  • Number One Song of the Century, Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts
  • Songwriters Hall of Fame, Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, Theater Hall of Fame
  • Handel Medallion from the City of New York
  • National Academy of Music Johnny Mercer Award


More than 50 years and 400 songs

Before the Rainbow

Special Thanks

Sam A. Arlen, Lauren Becker, Alan and Ellen Bernstein, Richard Boursy, Jeff Clark, Colin Davidson, Hope Dunbar, Thembi Duncan, Walter Frisch, Rob Goldberg, Mark Goldman, Judi Mohn Griggs, Albert Haim, Greg Hennessey, Rhonda Hoffman, Jessica Hollister, Oscar Israelowitz, Carla Jablonski, Jill Komm, Nicole Kondziela, Steven Kosanovich, Noah Kotzin, Chuck LaChiusa, Greg Meadows, Jane Meditz, William Offhaus, Jennifer Patrick, George Scott, Kim Stacy, Matthew Steinberg, Lynne Steinhart, Lorne Steinhart, Cynthia Van Ness, Melissa Wertheimer, Jessica Wittman

Research and Text | Chana Revell Kotzin, PHD
Graphic Design | Telesco Creative Group