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The Songs You Know, The Man You Don’t

Academy Award winning lyricist’s great-grandsons bring an incredible story and performance to the home of J. Basil Dannebohm.

You know at least one of his songs, but you more than likely don’t know his name. He was a major contributor to the great American songbook. He was an Academy Award winning lyricist. He was a human rights advocate. He wrote the lyrics to “Over the Rainbow” and all the iconic songs in The Wizard of Oz, also with hundreds of others including standards “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” “April in Paris," and "It's Only a Paper Moon.” Known for the social commentary within his lyrics, as well as liberal sensibilities, he championed racial and gender equality and union politics at a controversial time with art and heart. His name was Yip Harburg and on Monday, December 4th, 2017, guests of the Dannebohm residence enjoyed an evening of songs and stories in a house concert featuring two of Yip's great-grandsons.

“Yip penned words that have resonated across two centuries and every continent. His lyrics embodied the universal urge in the human spirit for personal and cooperate harmony and fulfillment,” said great grandson, Aaron Harburg, who is currently producing a documentary titled, Song of the Century, which details the untold story of Yip’s creation of “Over the Rainbow” and the other songs from Oz.

“Yip’s work points people toward hope. He understood the human need for it. I want to carry on giving that hope,” said great grandson, David Harburg, an Ann Arbor based artist who has been working on revitalizing the songs by his great-grandfather.

The evening was hosted by Ryan Jay, one of America’s most popular nationally syndicated TV & radio film critics. Inspired since childhood by his favorite film, The Wizard of Oz, Jay has become recognized as an Oz historian, interviewing the casts and filmmakers of many Oz films, publishing articles, and presenting multimedia lectures, celebrating the legacy of Oz, to audiences from around the world at comic cons, universities, theaters and museums. As a producer and director, Jay has worked on major pop culture programming for networks such as Bravo, Showtime, MTV, Nickelodeon, and others. He serves as director of Harburg's Song of the Century documentary.

“Among the cumulative creative forces behind The Wizard of Oz, Yip Harburg stands out as one who helped connect emotional dots between the story, performer and song,” said Jay. “To use the phrase of another beloved Oz lyricist, Stephen Schwartz, whom also counts himself a fan of Yip’s, his legacy has changed us, “For Good.””

The event included a less known and rarely performed Christmas song written by Harburg entitled, “Who Says There Ain’t No Santa Claus.”

“The song was written for the Broadway musical, Flahooley, said David Harburg. “It’s a really catchy Christmas song that, frankly, needs to be revived and counted among our favorite Christmas carols.”

The Harburg brothers hope that attendees of the presentation found a little Christmas spirit in the music and message of their great grandfather.

“The holidays are a special time for creating new memories,” said Jay. “Listening to the Harburg brothers share their stories and sing their great-grandfather’s songs leaves you with a joyous feeling, perfect for this time of year.”

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