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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Remembering Otto Harbach, Class of 1895

Otto Harbach was born on August 18, 1873, making 2023 the 150th anniversary of his birthday. Harbach is one of Knox’s most well-known alumni; over the course of his lifetime, he amassed an incredible catalog of works, including nearly 50 musical comedies and operettas. 

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Harbach transferred to Knox College from Salt Lake Collegiate Institute. He was part of a number of Knox-related artist groups, including the musical act named the Knox College Boys. He was inducted into the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity before graduating in 1895. Harbach would later become friends with Carl Sandburg in 1939 while discussing Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Harbach is also the namesake of the College’s Harbach Theatre inside the Ford Center for the Fine Arts. Harbach was a lifelong supporter and financial donor of Knox College. Harbach’s final visit to the campus came in 1958 when he participated in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Centennial.

Harbach collaborated with many Broadway composers of the early 20th century and is currently remembered as one of the most successful Broadway lyricists. In the early 1900s, he was named the record holder for most Broadway shows played at one time (seven). 

Harbach’s best-known works include songs such as "Cuddle up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine," "I Won't Dance," and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." It’s said that Harbach wrote over 1000 songs in his lifetime. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. 

Among his other career achievements, Harbach helped found the American Society for Authors, Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1914. He was a charter member of the society and remained actively involved until 1953.

Harbach and his wife, Eloise Smith Dougall, had two sons, William Harbach and Robert Harbach. He died on January 24, 1963, at his home in Manhattan at the age of 89.

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Printed on Monday, May 20, 2024