Over the Rainbow was written for the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, and was sung by actress Judy Garland in her starring role. With music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, the classic Academy Award-winning ballad has received numerous historic honors and accolades over the past 75 years, and continues to resonate as one of the most important songs in popular music history.
The song has been named number one on the “Songs of the Century” list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. The American Film Institute also ranked “Over the Rainbow” the greatest movie song of all time on the list of “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs.” It was adopted in World War II by American troops in Europe as a symbol of the United States.
Judy Garland first recorded Over the Rainbow on the MGM soundstages on October 7, 1938, using an arrangement by Murray Cutter. A studio recording of the song, not from the actual film soundtrack, was recorded and released as a single by Decca Records in September of 1939. In March of 1940, that same recording was included on a Decca four-record studio cast album entitled The Wizard of Oz. Although this is not the version of the song featured in the film, Decca would continue to re-release the so-called “Cast Album” well into the 1960s. An introductory verse that was not used in the movie is often used in theatrical productions of The Wizard of Oz and is included in the piano sheet music book of songs from the film. Garland herself sang the introductory verse only once, on a 1948 radio broadcast of The Louella Parsons Show.