Composers & Collaborators

“Writing with different composers is always a different psychological experience. Each one has his own approach to creation. To know their idiosyncracies and to be able to get the best out of each one is fascinating. Each composer brings out a different aspect in your work. Duke, with his very sophisticated music for that time, the late ’30s and ’40s, demanded a certain kind of lyric. Vernon’s particular personality also required that you talk to him in a certain way, that your criticism and objections be registered in a diplomatic way that would neither reject nor demolish him.

“Lots of times the composer will give you a whole tune, and if he’s sensitive to what will fit his melody for example, Harold Arlen is very sensitive to what will fit his melody and you give him a title or a first line, and if he doesn’t agree, he”ll tell you. But it’s the way he tells you, and how you respond . . . and what your coefficient of acceptability is toward criticism. That is what your relationships with all these men depend on.

“It’s diplomacy, it’s psychology, it’s a lot of psychiatry it’s knowing the person you’re dealing with, and the sensitivities of the two of you. Some writers can’t collaborate they are at each other’s throats all the time, hostile to one another because of that constant rejection that has to go on in your day-to-day work. Writing and creating is nothing more than a series of those rejections, or, rather, criticisms. And the man who knows that, the good writer, always feels that criticism is valid.”

Yip Harburg in They’re Playing Our Song , edited by Max Wilk. Atheneum, 1973, p. 230.

Yip consciously enjoyed the challenge of working with new composers. He even labeled himself a “chameleon”. He wanted to figure out the personal foibles and strengths of the personalities of his many collaborators.

Below is a composer-by-composer breakdown. The lifetime total includes unpublished compositions. In addition, there are many loose lyric sheets among Yip’s papers with no reference to a composer-collaborator, so we may never know exactly how many composers worked with him. There is some evidence that Yip wrote lyrics to George Gershwin’s music when they were both teenagers, long before Yip embarked on his career as a lyricist.

The total for Jay Gorney includes his input as arranger for all of the songs in the 1961 Broadway musical The Happiest Girl in the World , adapted from Jacques Offenbach tunes.

COMPOSER FIRST YEAR OF COLLABORATION LIFETIME TOTAL
1.Harold Arlen 1932 155
2. Jay Gorney 1929 111
3. Burton Lane 1940 51
4. Vernon Duke 1930 47
5. Jacques Offenbach 1961 36
6. Sammy Fain 1929 35
7. Jule Styne 1967 30
8. Lewis Gensler 1932 20
9. Larry Orenstein & Jeff Alexander 1969 19
10. Jerome Kern 1943 14
11. Earl Robinson 1944 14
12. Philip Springer 1979 14
13. John W. (Johnny) Green 1930 10
14. Arthur Schwartz 1930 10
15. Milt Okun 1964 8
16. Senia Pokrass 1933 6
17. Dana Suesse 1933 5
18. Henry Souvaine 1929 5
19. Milton Ager 1931 5
20. Oscar Levant 1931 4
21. Joseph Meyer 1932 4
22. Ann Sternberg 1969 4
23. Ralph Rainger 1930 2
24. Lou Alter 1931 2
25. Richard Myers 1932 2
26. Roger Edens 1933 2
27. Karl Hajos 1935 2
28. Earl Brent 1942 2
29. Richard Rodgers 1930 1
30. Mario Bragiotti 1931 1
31. Werner Heyman 1931 1
32. Igor Borganoff 1932 1
33. Emmerich Kalman 1932 1
34. Morgan Lewis 1934 1
35. Jean DeLettre 1934 1
36. Maria Grever 1934 1
37. Franz Waxman 1935 1
38. Will Irwin 1937 1
39. Herbert Stothart 1938 1
40. Carl Sigman 1941 1
41. Margery Cummings 1942 1
42. Nick Acquaviva 1959 1
43. James Van Heusen 1978 1
The Yip Harburg Foundation