Barbra Streisand, who is not to be argued with, has said that “Over The Rainbow’ is “one of the finest songs ever written”. Appropriately then, the song belongs to one of the finest singers, Judy Garland, who of course sung it in The Wizard of Oz aged sixteen:
Harold Arlen (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics) created a magnificent and timeless song, and though Judy owns the song, in my opinion the most beautiful version of “Over The Rainbow” was sung by Barbra at her One Voice fundraising concert (staged in her backyard in 1986).
After a brief spoken introduction (which is not included in the clip below) where she shares her fleeting doubts about taking on the signature song of another titan (“but what the hell - I decided to sing it”) Barbra leaves the audience guessing by beginning with the song’s little-known introductory verse, which was not included in The Wizard Of Oz. A tender piano interlude follows, and then Barbra begins a celestial interpretation that inflects the song anew, includes some powerful liquid diamond moments, and ends on a intriguingly plaintive note.
You be the judge. In the meantime, here’s Judy singing “Over The Rainbow” on The Andy Williams Show in 1965:
Great moments in history: In 1963 the two supernovas combined for a spine-tingling duet (an early mash-up?) where Judy sings “Get Happy”, one of her standards, and Barbra does “Happy Days Are Here Again”, one of hers.
Listen for young Barbra, yet to find her confidence or star persona, pronouncing “ambition” in a way she thinks sounds intercontinental, and wait for the hit-the-floor hilarity of the duet’s climax where Judy - sensing correctly that Barbra’s natural theatricality will propel the ingenue to her feet to belt out the last big note, - grabs Streisand with both hands and pulls her down so firmly to the bench that they nearly both fall backwards!