Harburg was deep in debt after the 1929 Wall Street crash. Gershwin suggested that Harburg write song lyrics. Before long, he wrote the song that captured the essence of the Great Depression, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Ernie said of the music industry then: “They only wanted love songs or escape songs, so that in 1929 you had ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’ ... There wasn’t one song that addressed the Depression, in which we were all living.”
“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” became a national hit and remains a kind of anthem for hard times, corporate greed and the dignity of working people:
Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?In the 1930s, Harburg became the lyricist for “The Wizard of Oz.” He also added the rainbow to the story, which doesn’t appear in L. Frank Baum’s original 1900 book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” This led Harburg to write the famous song “Over the Rainbow,” sung by the then-unknown Judy Garland. Read more.