Arthur Freed was born Arthur Grossman on September 9, 1894 in Charleston, South Carolina. He was raised in Seattle, Washington and after graduation from high school he worked as a pianist and song plugger for a Chicago music publisher. During that time, he met Minnie Marx, the mother of the Marx Brothers, which led to his joining up with them and touring the vaudeville circuit as a singer and writer of musical material. He performed with Gus Edwards and with Louis Silvers, with whom he wrote New York revue material.
In 1921, he collaborated for the first time with composer Nacio Herb Brown on the song "When Buddha Smiles." Freed's first major success came in 1923, when he wrote "I Cried For You" with Gus Arnheim and Abe Lyman. After a few years of touring the nightclub circuit and staging some plays in Los Angeles, Freed joined MGM as a lyricist, and was assigned to work with his former collaborator, Brown. They were responsible for most of the tunes heard in the studio's early musicals, including the film Broadway Melody released in 1929 and featuring the tunes "You Were Meant For Me," "Broadway Melody," and "The Wedding of the Painted Doll". For the film Hollywood Revue of 1929, Freed and Brown contributed "Singin' in the Rain", and for the film The Pagan (1929) they wrote "Pagan Love Song".
Throughout the decade Freed continued to write songs and scores, mostly with Brown, for movies such as Montana Moon (1930), Dancing Lady (1933), Sadie McKee (1934), A Night at the Opera (1935), Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), and Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937). Songs written during this period included "After Sundown," "Alone," "Broadway Rhythm," "You Were Meant For Me," "Going Hollywood," "Temptation," "Fit as a Fiddle," "You Are My Lucky Star," "Good Morning," and "All I Do Is Dream of You."
Following an assignment as associate producer on the movie The Wizard of Oz in 1939, Freed began his second career as a producer. Freed was a proponent of the "integrated" musical, wherein the songs became integral in the storyline rather than their being mere highlights. MGM's legendary Freed unit produced nearly 50 movies, including Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Lady Be Good (1941), Cabin in the Sky, (1943), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946), The Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Good News (1947), The Pirate (1948), Easter Parade (1948), Words and Music (1948), The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), On the Town (1949), Annie Get Your Gun (1950), An American in Paris (1951), Show Boat (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), The Band Wagon (1953), Brigadoon (1954), Kismet (1955), It's Always Fair Weather (1955), Silk Stockings (1957), Gigi (1958), and Bells Are Ringing (1960).
After retiring from the movies, Freed served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1963 to 1966, and applied his showmanship savvy to the annual Oscar telecast.
Arthur Freed died in Los Angeles, California on April 12, 1973.