Study Guide

Over the Rainbow

Over the Rainbow Introduction

In a Nutshell

Rainbows, lemon drops, stars, birds, and more rainbows. 

Sounds like a bunch of children's book stuff to us. Judy Garland's 1939 classic "Over the Rainbow" is popular with more than just the five-years-and-under crowd, though. It's one of the most widely known, copycatted, and beloved songs of the entire 20th century. It's so ubiquitous, in fact, that sometimes we forget to stop and think about what the song is really saying.

Does anyone else find it hilarious that the Recording Industry Association of America's Song of the Century is a nursery school-friendly serenade addressed to a tiny dog? Just sayin'. 

Whether you're amused, enamored, or annoyed at the thought of Dorothy, Toto, and the whole Wizard of Oz thing, read on for more about the fabulous genesis of this somewhat ridiculous (but ultimately pretty amazing) show tune.

About the Song

ArtistGarland, Judy
Year1939
LabelDecca (Single), MGM (Film)
Writer(s)E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Harold Arlen
Producer(s)Decca (Single), Marilee Bradford and Bradley Flanagan (Film)
Musician(s)Judy Garland (vocals), the Victor Young Orchestra (instrumentals on Decca version), MGM Studio Orchestra (instrumentals on film version)
Learn to play
AlbumWizard of Oz Soundtrack

Music Video

_MUSIC_VIDEO_HTML_

Influences on Garland, Judy

Judy Garland's parents were vaudeville producers who owned a small theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her first performance as a singer happened at age 2 (when she did "Jingle Bells" to much applause at her parents' theater). She quickly joined the singing group made up of her two sisters, known as the Gumm Sisters. The family moved to California in 1926 and the group began to tour, staying together as the Gumm Sisters and then the Garland Sisters until 1935—when Judy was still only 13. That was the year she signed a contract with MGM as a singer-actress. Thus, Garland's primary influences as a youngster were her parents, and the obscure singers on the vaudeville circuit.

Influenced by Garland, Judy

Bette Midler
Freddie Mercury
Donna Summer
Sandra Lawrence
Katie Melua
Linnzi Zaorski
Judy Barnett
Adi Braun
Janelle Monáe
Helmut Lotti
Rufus Wainwright

Over the Rainbow Resources

Books

L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
This book, sometimes tagged as the "first American fairy tale," is now available in a 100th anniversary edition. After the success of the first book, Baum wrote 14 Oz books in total, all still great for child-level reading. The series was continued after his death to include a total of 40 books.

Gerald Clarke, Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland (2000)
This middle-of-the-road biography was popular enough that it was announced to be made into a biopic.

John Fricke, et. al., The Wizard of Oz (1990)
Fricke is considered the pre-eminent historian and writer on the topic of the film—his writing is even noted on the official film website. This illustrated book should be a fun read for anyone interested in this movie's long history.

John Fricke, Judy Garland: A Portrait In Art and Anecdote (2003)
This tribute to Garland in hardback will satisfy fans while avoiding any new revelations about her life. Good for your coffee table, but not your research project.

Lorna Luft, Me and My Shadows: A Family Portrait (1999)
Judy Garland's less-famous daughter (her other daughter is Liza Minelli) comes out to tell her family story from her own perspective. Luft is a successful performer in her own right, but has never gained the name recognition her half-sister has. By most accounts, this is a good read.

Albums

Wizard of Oz Soundtrack (1939)
The original soundtrack wasn't actually released as an album until the 1950s. Today, it's a valuable enough commodity that it has been re-mastered and re-released digitally for contemporary audiences.

Judy at Carnegie Hall (1961)
This live Garland album is her most beloved and notorious, capturing the singer at her best—over 20 years into her rocky career.

Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall (2007)
Over 40 years after the fact, gay singer Rufus Wainwright undertook to imitate Judy Garland's entire Carnegie Hall performance—in a Carnegie Hall performance of his own. Perhaps surprisingly, the show was a huge success despite some opposition from diehard Garland fans—to be expected in any attempt to re-create a legend.

Images

Dorothy Studio Portrait
These studio shots of stars were used to promote films.

Garland Studio Portrait
Garland's portraits out of Dorothy character were a lot more grown-up.

Dorothy and Toto
Classic still from The Wizard of Oz.

Movies & TV

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The 70th anniversary version on DVD is now available from Warner Brothers.

The Wiz (1978)
This urban, African-American reinterpretation of the story was both a critical failure and a box office failure at the time of release. Since then, though, it has continued to stand as an emblem of 1970s Black film, complete with Diana Ross as Dorothy and a young Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.

Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (2001)
This acclaimed TV documentary is based on Garland's daughter Lorna Luft's 1999 memoir.

Muppet Wizard of Oz (2005)
This made-for-TV-movie features Queen Latifah and Quentin Tarantino, plus it's the Muppets and the Wizard of Oz. We should not need to say anything else.

Judy: Impressions of Garland (1967–2003)
This TV series about Judy Garland documents the ins and outs of the performer's hard personal life and glamorous career.

Websites

Warner Brothers Wizard of Oz Site
This easy-to-use site includes an interactive timeline history of the film, a photo gallery, and opportunities to order the film and soundtrack digitally.

The Judy Room
Great Judy Garland fan site with a complete discography and detailed credits, plus news, photos, and a Judy Garland store.

The Oz Museum
Even though Kansas doesn't exactly get a good rap in The Wizard of Oz, the rural Kansas town of Wamego has embraced the film, assembling the largest collection of Oz memorabilia anywhere in the world.

Video & Audio

Judy Garland, "Over the Rainbow" in The Wizard of Oz
As far as we're concerned, this black and white scene is still quite lovely.

Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole, "Over the Rainbow"
This version of "Over the Rainbow" by the popular Hawaiian singer only grew in popularity after he died in 1997. The official music video is also a tribute to Iz, who remains one of the most popular and well-known Hawaiian singers ever.