Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin

Infobox musical artist
Name = Irving Berlin

Img_capt = In 1948
Img_size =
Landscape =
Background = non_performing_personnel
Birth_name = Israel Isidore Baline (Beilin)
Alias =
Born = 11 May 1888
probably Mogilev, Russia (now Belarus)
Died = 22 September 1989 (aged 101)
New York City, New York, United States
Genre = Broadway musicals, revues, show tunes
Occupation = Songwriter, composer, lyricist
Years_active = 1902 – 1962
Label =
Associated_acts =

Irving Berlin (11 May 1888 – 22 September 1989) was a Russian-born American composer and lyricist, and one of the most prolific American songwriters in history. Berlin was one of the few Tin Pan Alley/Broadway songwriters who wrote both lyrics and music for his songs. Although he never learned to read music beyond a rudimentary level, with the help of various uncredited musical assistants or collaborators, he eventually composed over 3,000 songs, many of which (e.g. "God Bless America", "White Christmas", "Anything You Can Do", "There's No Business Like Show Business") left an indelible mark on music and culture worldwide. He composed seventeen film scores and twenty-one Broadway scores.


Early life

Berlin was born Israel Isidore Baline, or Beilin [ [ Famous Ellis Island passenger arrivals] ] to an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Mogilev, now Belarus (according to other sources possibly in Tyumen, Russia).cite web | last =Bloom| first =Nate| authorlink =| coauthors =| title=The Jews Who Wrote Christmas Songs| publisher =InterfaithFamily| date =2006-12-19 | url =| format =| accessdate =2006-12-19 ] His family immigrated to the United States in 1893. His parents were Leah (Lena) Yarchin and Mosheh (Moses) Baline (transcribed as Beilin); his father was a cantor who obtained other paid work certifying kosher meat. [ [ "New York Daily News" archive] ]

Following the death of his father in 1896, Irving found himself having to work to survive. He did various street jobs, including selling newspapers and busking. The harsh economic reality of having to work or starve was to have a lasting effect on the way Berlin treated money. While working as a singing waiter at Pelham's Cafe in Chinatown, Berlin was asked by the proprietor to write an original song for the cafe because a rival tavern had had their own song published. "Marie from Sunny Italy," with music by Nick Nicholson, the cafe's pianist, was the result, and it was soon published. Although it earned him only 37 cents, it gave him a new career and a new name: Israel Beilin was misprinted as "I. Berlin" on the sheet music. *

Berlin first worked solely as a lyricist and only began to attempt to compose music when a misunderstanding arose concerning his lyric "Dorando." He tried to sell the lyric to someone who assumed he had music to go with it. Although at the time he could play no instrument at all, he endeavored to come up with something with the help of an arranger. Throughout his career Berlin relied on musical assistants or collaborators. Cliff Hess worked for Berlin in this way from approximately 1912 to 1917 and was succeeded by Arthur Johnston and then Helmy Kresa. These musicians were not credited as co-composers.

Berlin was a self-taught pianist and one who reputedly restricted himself mainly to the black keys of the piano. Eventually he bought a special piano with a lever under the keyboard, enabling him to transpose his music mechanically. [Wodehouse, P. G., "Bring on the Girls", page 132 as reprinted in "The Theatre Omnibus", (1994), Hutchinson, London] He once explained his compositional method thus: "I get an idea, either a title or a phrase or a melody, and hum it out to something definite. When I have completed a song and memorized it, I dictate it to an arranger."

Many of his earliest songs, among them "Sadie Salome (Go Home)," "That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune," and "Oh How That German Could Love," enjoyed modest success in sheet music form, as recordings, on the vaudeville stage, or as interpolations into stage shows, but it was "Alexander's Ragtime Band," written in 1911 with the help of Alfred Doyle, that launched his career as one of Tin Pan Alley's brightest stars. Richard Corliss, in a Time magazine profile of Berlin in 2001, wrote:

"Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911). It was a march, not a rag, and its savviest musicality comprised quotes from a bugle call and "Swanee River". But the tune, which revived the ragtime fervor that Scott Joplin had stoked a decade earlier, made Berlin a songwriting star. On its first release, four versions of the tune charted at # 1, # 2, # 3 and # 4. Bessie Smith, in 1927, and Louis Armstrong, in 1937, made the top 20 with their interpretations. In 1938 the song was # 1 again, in a duet by Bing Crosby and Connee Boswell; another Crosby duet, this time with Al Jolson, hit the top 20 in 1947. Johnny Mercer charted a swing version in 1945, and Nellie Lutcher put it on the R&B charts (# 13) in 1948. Add Ray Charles' brilliant big-band take in 1959, and "Alexander" had a dozen hit versions in a bit under a half century. [ [,8599,189846,00.html That Old Christmas Feeling: Irving America. Richard Corliss remembers Irving Berlin, whose career was more than "White Christmas" and "God Bless America"] TIME Magazine. December 24, 2001]

Works for the musical stage

After the success of "Alexander", Berlin was rumored to be writing a "ragtime opera," but instead he produced his first full-length work for the musical stage, "Watch Your Step" (1914), starring Vernon and Irene Castle, the first musical comedy to make pervasive use of syncopated rhythms. A similar show entitled "Stop! Look! Listen!" followed in 1915.

In 1917, during World War I, he entered the United States Army and staged a musical revue, "Yip Yip Yaphank", while at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York. Billed as "a military mess cooked up by the boys of Camp Upton," the cast of the show consisted of 350 members of the armed forces. The revue was a patriotic tribute to the United States Army, and Berlin composed a song entitled "God Bless America" for the show, but decided against using it. When it was released years later, "God Bless America" proved so popular that suggestions were made that it should become the National Anthem. It remains to this day one of his most successful songs and one of the most widely known in the United States. A particularly famous rendition occurred after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when members of the United States Congress stood together on the steps of the United States Capitol and sang Berlin's song. [5] Some songs from the Yaphank revue were later included in the 1943 movie "This Is the Army" featuring other Berlin songs, including the famous title piece, as well as a rendition of "God Bless America" by Kate Smith. Berlin himself sang "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning". His natural singing voice was so soft that the recording volume had to be increased significantly in order to record acceptably.

After the war, Berlin built his own theater, the Music Box, as a showplace for annual revues featuring his latest songs; the first of these was "The Music Box Revue of 1921". The theater is still in use, incidentally. Though most of his works for the Broadway stage took the form of revues — collections of songs with no unifying plot — he did write a number of book shows. "The Cocoanuts" (1925) was a light comedy, with a cast featuring, among others, the Marx Brothers. "Face the Music" (1932) was a political satire with a book by Moss Hart, and Louisiana Purchase (1940) was a satire of a Southern politician, obviously based on the exploits of Huey Long. "As Thousands Cheer" (1933) was a revue, also with book by Moss Hart, with a theme: each number was presented as an item in a newspaper, some of them touching on issues of the day. The show yielded a succession of hit songs, including "Easter Parade", "Heat Wave" (presented as the weather forecast), "Harlem on My Mind", and "Supper Time", a song about racial bigotry that was sung by Ethel Waters.

During World War II, after receiving permission from General George Marshall, Berlin organized an all-soldier revue in the spirit of "Yip Yip Yaphank". "This Is the Army" opened on 4 July 1942, with a cast of over 300 servicemen, and ran for three years, first on Broadway, then on tour in the United States, and then abroad. The US Army Soldier Show still exists today.

Berlin's most successful Broadway musical was "Annie Get Your Gun" (1946), produced by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Loosely based on the life of sharpshooter Annie Oakley, the music and lyrics were written by Berlin, with a book by Herbert Fields and his sister Dorothy Fields. Berlin had taken on the job after the original choice, Jerome Kern, died suddenly. At first he refused to take on the job, claiming that he knew nothing about "hillbilly music", but the show ran for 1,147 performances. It is said that the showstopper song, "There's No Business Like Show Business", was almost left out of the show altogether because Berlin wrongly got the impression that Rodgers and Hammerstein did not like it. "Annie Get Your Gun" is considered to be Berlin's best musical theatre score not only because of the number of hits it contains, but because its songs successfully combine character and plot development.

Berlin's next show, "Miss Liberty" (1949), was a relative flop. "Call Me Madam" (1950), with Ethel Merman portraying the famous Washington hostess Perle Mesta, fared better, giving him his second greatest success, but his last show, "Mr. President" (1962), received unfavorable reviews and was a commercial failure. The premiere was attended by Democratic President John F. Kennedy, who had remarked earlier "If the song ["This Secret Service (Makes me Nervous)"] is anything like real life, I've already seen the show!" His aides Kenneth P. O'Donnell and David Powers afterwards offered President Kennedy's congratulations to Mr. Berlin for a believed hit. At this point, Berlin essentially retired from the public eye.

Berlin and Hollywood

In 1927, one of Berlin's songs, "Blue Skies," a hit from 1926, was featured in the first feature-length talkie, "The Jazz Singer", in which it was sung by Al Jolson. "Top Hat" (1935) was the first of a series of distinctive film musicals pioneered by Berlin that featured popular and attractive performers (such as Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Ginger Rogers), light romantic plots, and a seemingly endless string of his new and old songs. Other films of this sort included "On the Avenue" (1937), "Holiday Inn" (1942), "Blue Skies" (1946), and "Easter Parade" (1948). The film version of "This Is the Army" (1943), which featured Berlin himself singing "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," was a success, but film versions of several of his stage musicals, including "Annie Get Your Gun" (1950) and "Call Me Madam" (1953), were somewhat less successful than his written-for-Hollywood shows.

White Christmas

The 1942 film, "Holiday Inn", introduced "White Christmas," one of the most-recorded songs in history. First sung in the film by Bing Crosby, it sold over 30 million copies when released as a record. The song was re-used as the title theme of the 1954 musical film, "White Christmas", which starred Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Crosby's single of "White Christmas" was recognized as the best-selling single in any music category for more than fifty years. Crosby's recording of "White Christmas" has sold additional millions of copies as part of numerous compilation albums, including his best-selling album "Merry Christmas", which was first released as an LP in 1949.

The most familiar version of "White Christmas" is not the one Crosby originally recorded for "Holiday Inn". Crosby was called back to the Decca studios on 19 March 1947, to re-record "White Christmas" as a result of damage to the 1942 master due to its frequent use. Every effort was made to reproduce the original Decca recording session, once again including the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers. The resulting re-issue is the one that has become most familiar to the public.

"White Christmas" won Berlin the Academy Award for Best Music in an Original Song, one of seven Oscar nominations he received over the course of his career. He is the only presenter in the history of the award to find his own name in the envelope on Oscar night.

His friend and fellow songwriter Jule Styne said of him, "It's easy to be clever. But the really clever thing is to be simple." [ [ Media met its match] by Mark Steyn (Washington Times)] Asked to define Berlin's place in American music, Jerome Kern said he had none: "Irving Berlin "is" American music."

Personal life

Berlin was married twice. His first wife, singer Dorothy Goetz, sister of songwriter E. Ray Goetz, contracted pneumonia and typhoid fever on their honeymoon to Cuba, and died five months after their wedding in 1912 at the age of twenty. Her death inspired Berlin's song "When I Lost You", which became one of his earliest hits. Curiously, a year before Dorothy Berlin's death, Irving Berlin, E. Ray Goetz, and Ted Snyder co-wrote a song called "There's a Girl in Havana".

His second wife was Ellin Mackay, a devout Irish-American Catholic and heiress to the Comstock Lode mining fortune, as well as an avant-garde writer who had been published in "The New Yorker". They were married in 1926, against the wishes of both his family, who objected to religious intermarriage, and her father, Clarence Mackay, a prominent Roman Catholic layman, who disinherited her. [ [ NY Daily News archives] ] Without a dispensation from the Church, the two were joined in a civil ceremony on 4 January 1926, and were immediately snubbed by society: Ellin was immediately disinvited from the wedding of her friend Consuelo Vanderbilt, although Vanderbilt was not a Catholic. Finances were not a problem, however: Berlin assigned her the rights to his song "Always" which yielded her a huge and steady income.

The couple had three daughters—Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Emmett, and Elizabeth Peters — and a son, Irving Berlin, Jr., who died as an infant on Christmas Day.

Berlin's patriotism was real, and deep. Too old for military service when his country entered World War II in 1941, he devoted his time and energy to writing new patriotic songs, such as "Any Bonds Today?", donating the proceeds from This Is the Army to the army itself, and entertaining the troops with a road company of that show, in which he was a member of the cast. After performances in the United States, the show played in London in 1943, at a time when the city was still under air attack from Germany. After a tour of the British Isles, the show went on to North Africa and then Italy, playing in Rome only weeks after that city was liberated. Next came the Middle East and the Pacific, where performances often took place in close proximity to battle zones. In recognition of this important and courageous contribution to troop morale, at war's end Berlin was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Truman.

A political conservative, Berlin supported the presidential candidacy of General Dwight Eisenhower, and his song "I Like Ike" featured prominently in the Eisenhower campaign. In his later years he became conservative in his views on music, as well; he had no use for the new styles sweeping through American popular music in the 1950s and 1960s, such as rock 'n' roll, and he virtually gave up songwriting after the failure of Mr. President in 1962. In 1968, Berlin was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Becoming a virtual recluse in his last years, Berlin did not attend the 100th birthday party held in his honor. However, he did attend the centennial celebrations for the Statue of Liberty in 1986.


Berlin died of a heart attack in New York City at the age of 101 and was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.


multi-listen item
filename = I Want to Go Back to Michigan.ogg
title = I Want to Go Back to Michigan
description = "I Want to Go Back to Michigan", performed by Billy Murray for Edison Records in 1914.
format = Ogg
multi-listen item
filename=Irving Berlin - That Mysterious Rag.ogg
title=That Mysterious Rag
description=A 1911 composition by Irving Berlin and Ted Snyder. Performed by the Premier Quartette in the same year.

Berlin's songs


*cite book | author = Barrett, Mary Ellin | title = Irving Berlin: A Daughter's Memoir | year = 1994 | id = ISBN 0-671-72533-5
*cite book | author = Bergreen, Laurence | title = As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin | year = 1991 | id = ISBN 0-670-81874-7
*cite book | author = Hamm, Charles | title = Irving Berlin: Songs from the Melting Pot | year = 1997 | id = ISBN 0-19-507188-3
*cite book | author = Hischak, Thomas S. | title = Word Crazy, Broadway Lyricists from Cohan to Sondheim | year = 1991 | id = ISBN 0-275-93849-2
*cite book | author = Leopold, David | title = Irving Berlin's Show Business : Broadway - Hollywood - America | year = 2005 | id = ISBN 0-8109-5891-0
*cite book | author = Rosen, Jody |title = White Christmas: The Story of an American Song | year = 2002 | id = ISBN 0-743-21875-2

Additional reading

*cite book | author = Furia, Philip |title = Irving Berlin: A Life in Song | year = 1997 | id = ISBN 0-028-64815-3


External links

* [ Papers of Irving Berlin, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library]
*ibdb name|id=6452|name=Irving Berlin
*imdb name|id=0000927|name=Irving Berlin
* [ Irving Berlin Music Company]
* [ PBS page on Irving Berlin] , part of their "Great Performances" series
* [ If Irving Berlin could not read or write music, how did he compose?] (from "The Straight Dope")
* [ Liner notes for "The Vintage Irving Berlin", New World Records NW 238]
* [ Irving Berlin collection of non-commercial sound recordings] , at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
* [ The Judy Room "Easter Parade" section]
*Elder, Daniel K. "Remarkable Sergeants: Ten Vignettes of Noteworthy NCOs,"

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Irving Berlin — Fotografía de 1948 Nombre de nacimiento Israel Isidore Baline Nacimiento …   Wikipedia Español

  • Irving Berlin — (1948) Irving Berlin (eigentlich Israel Isidore Beilin oder Baline; * 29. Apriljul./ 11. Mai 1888greg. im Russischen Kaiserreich; † 22. September 1989 in New York) …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Irving Berlin — (1888 23. september 1989), amerikansk komponist og tekstforfatter. Irving Berlin skrev over 1.000 sange, og han blev en af århundredets mest populære komponister. Han hed oprindelig Israel Baline …   Danske encyklopædi

  • Irving Berlin — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Berlin (homonymie). Irving Berlin en 1948. Irving Berlin (de son vrai nom Israel Isidore Baline ou Beilin) est un compositeur américain d origine j …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Irving Berlin — noun United States songwriter (born in Russia) who wrote more than 1500 songs and several musical comedies (1888 1989) • Syn: ↑Berlin, ↑Israel Baline • Instance Hypernyms: ↑songwriter, ↑songster, ↑ballad maker * * * Ir …   Useful english dictionary

  • Irving Berlin — ➡ Berlin (I) * * * …   Universalium

  • Irving Berlin — Israel Baline …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

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