Born Hyman Arluck, February 15, 1905 Buffalo, NY, (died April 23, 1986 New York, NY of Parkinson's disease); son of Samuel Arluck, a Jewish cantor and Celia (born Orlin); married Anya (died March 9, 1973); children: Samuel Arlen. Education: Studied piano with Arnold Cornelisson, Conductor of the Buffalo String Orchestral Society.
For more than a century, a large number of immigrant Jews from Poland, Germany and Russia fled to the United States to avoid persecution. Many a son of a Jewish cantor became a singing star, or one of America's top lyricists and composers. Harold Arlen was such an example. He was the son of immigrants from the Vilna section of Poland, who wrote many of the top musical "standards" that will remain the favorite music of many generations. Born Hyman Arluck on February 15, 1905 to Samuel Arluck and Celia Orlin, he changed his name after he quit high school and began to perform professionally.
Arlen first learned to sing in his father's synagogue choir but most of his musical training and background was gained from his mother. By the time he was seven, he was regularly singing in Buffalo's Pine Street synagogue choir. At nine he studied piano with Arnold Cornelisson, who was an organist, composer and conductor of the Buffalo String Orchestral Society.
Arlen dropped out of Hutchinson Central High School and later Technical High School when he was sixteen. Afterwards, he began to earn his living playing the piano in silent movie houses as well as performing in a vaudeville act. He formed the Snappy Trio with two other teenagers and regularly performed in the brothel district in Buffalo. Two additional members were added and the group was renamed the Southbound Shufflers. The group was hired to play on Great Lakes' steamers. He was soon asked to joined the Yankee Six, another dance band that soon grew to twelve pieces and later renamed The Buffalodians. He served as the band's arranger, pianist, and sometimes singer. The Buffalodians became a favorite of the area townspeople and their engagements took them to downtown ballroom restaurants as well as college and other societal functions. Th group became so popular, they appeared in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. In 1925, they were given the opportunity to perform at various Broadway clubs in New York City
Arlen was noticed by Broadway and popular music composer Vincent Youmans, who gave him a part in the 1929 musical "Great Day" as rehearsal pianist. . It was there that Arlen established a long time collaboration with composer and lyric writer Ted Koehler. During a rehearsal they combined to write "Get Happy" and soon convinced the financial backers of the program that Arlen had great potential as a songwriter. "Get Happy" was subsequently used in 9:15 Revue and was made a major hit by singer Ruth Etting in 1930. "Get Happy," Arlen's first song, still remains a standard today.