'Over the Rainbow'

'Over the Rainbow'

Judy Collins appears at BookPeople Friday, Aug. 27, 3pm, singing "Over the Rainbow" and autographing the children's picture book of the same name. (Wristbands will be distributed, and books must be purchased in-store.) Speaking on the telephone from her home, Collins revealed a lifelong connection with the timeless ballad.

Austin Chronicle: Why "Over the Rainbow"?

Judy Collins: Peter Yarrow called me up and said: "I just sold a million copies of 'Puff the Magic Dragon,' and I haven't sold a million copies of anything in a long time. I sold so many copies they've given me an imprint, and I want you to do my next book. I'd love you to sing 'Over the Rainbow.'"

I also love E.Y. Harburg, who wrote the lyrics. I had recorded his songs "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," "April in Paris," and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?," and he'd said, "I want you to record my other song ['Over the Rainbow']." He wrote all four of those with different composers – wrote with all kinds of people, hundreds of songs. I told him then, "I wish I could sing that song, but it's not time for me to sing that." And it wasn't. The time was this year.

AC: Most people won't recognize your arrangement.

JC: I like the whole song. People don't choose to sing the first verse; they start with the chorus, like Wizard of Oz, but [sings] "When all the world is a hopeless jumble ..." is what I grew up hearing. In those days, the great American songbook lyricists usually had a verse to explain what the song was about. I hadn't heard that opening verse in a long time and thought, "That's going to be wonderful." And it's an opportunity for the illustrator to do something very special. The pages are so beautiful.

AC: What about the other two songs on the Over the Rainbow CD?

JC: They're from my childhood camp experiences. "I See the Moon" seems to be well-known, but the other one, "Coral Bells," is not. Camp songs are great fun to sing; I've always loved them. I'd sung "Over the Rainbow" once, for The Dinah Shore Show, but that was it, so it was thrilling for me to sing. I think it's an enduring song in everyone's life.

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