Born Isidore Hochberg (April 8, 1896 in Manhattan, New York, USA – March 5, 1981 in Los Angeles, California, USA) to immigrant Jewish parents on the Lower East Side of New York, his name was changed to Edgar Yipsel Harburg. He is also known under his nickname Yip Harburg, "Yipsel" meaning squirrel in Yiddish. He attended Townsend Harris High School, where he and Ira Gershwin worked on the school paper and became life-long friends.
After graduating from university, Harburg spent three years in Uruguay to avoid involvement in WWI, which he opposed as a committed socialist. There he worked as a factory supervisor. After the war he returned to New York, married and had two children and started writing light verse for local newspapers. He became co-owner of Consolidated Electrical Appliance Company. The company went bankrupt following the crash of 1929, leaving Harburg "anywhere from $50,000 - $70,000 in debt,". At this point, Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg agreed that Yip should start writing song lyrics.
Gershwin introduced Harburg to Jay Gorney, who collaborated with him on songs for an Earl Carroll Broadway review: the show was successful and Harburg was engaged as lyricist for a series of successful reviews.
Harburg and Gorney were offered a contract with Paramount: in Hollywood, Harburg worked with composers Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Jerome Kern, Jule Styne and Burton Lane, and wrote the lyrics for The Wizard of Oz for which he won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
During the McCarthy era, from about 1951 to 1962, Yip Harburg was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist when movie studio bosses blacklisted industry people for their left-wing political activity. No longer able to work in Hollywood, he continued to write musicals for Broadway, among them was Jamaica, which featured Lena Horne.