“Get Happy” is the first of three songs on this program, which we perform back to back, with music by Harold Arlen. Most famously performed by Judy Garland in the 1950 film Summer Stock, and subsequently featured throughout her career, it was originally sung twenty years earlier by Ruth Etting in the stage musical The Nine-Fifteen Revue. It was also the first collaboration between Arlen and lyricist Ted Koehler; the pair would write several more hits together, including the torch standard “Stormy Weather.” It references the spirit of a Christian revival meeting, in which listeners “get happy” and “shout hallelujah” as they anticipate entering the promised land to wash their sins away.
Arlen wrote “Over the Rainbow” with lyricist Yip Harburg for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland, as Dorothy Gale, sings it within the first five minutes, after Aunt Em tells her to “find yourself a place where you won’t get into trouble.” It was nearly cut, because MGM executives thought it slowed down the film, but would, of course, go on to become Garland’s signature song. It was voted the greatest song of the 20th century in a joint survey by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America, and the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute.