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Irving Berlin
Berlin in 1941
Israel Isidore Baline (Beilin)

(1888-05-11)May 11, 1888
Tyumen, Russian Empire
DiedSeptember 22, 1989(1989-09-22) (aged 101)
New York City, New York, United States
OccupationsSongwriter, composer, lyricist
Years active1907–1971
Known forPopular songs, ragtime, Broadway musicals, show tunes
SpousesDorothy Goetz (1912–1912 (her death)
Ellin Mackay (1926–1988, her death)
ChildrenFour, including Mary Barrett

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File:Alexander's Ragtime Band - Billy Murray.ogg

Alexander's Ragtime Band, Edison Amberol cylinder, 1911

Irving Berlin (born Israel Isidore Baline; May 11, 1888 – September 22, 1989) was an American composer and lyricist, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. His music forms a great part of the Great American Songbook. Born in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States at the age of five. He published his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy", in 1907, receiving 33 cents for the publishing rights,[1] and had his first major international hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in 1911. He also was an owner of the Music Box Theatre on Broadway.

"Alexander's Ragtime Band" sparked an international dance craze in places as far away as Berlin's native Russia, which also "flung itself into the ragtime beat with an abandon bordering on mania." Over the years he was known for writing music and lyrics in the American vernacular: uncomplicated, simple and direct, with his stated aim being to "reach the heart of the average American," whom he saw as the "real soul of the country."[2] In doing so, said Walter Cronkite, at Berlin's 100th birthday tribute, he "helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives."[3]

He wrote hundreds of songs, many becoming major hits, which made him "a legend" before he turned thirty. During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films, with his songs nominated eight times for Academy Awards. Many songs became popular themes and anthems, including "Easter Parade", "White Christmas", "Happy Holiday", "This Is the Army, Mr. Jones", and "There's No Business Like Show Business". His Broadway musical and 1942 film, This is the Army, with Ronald Reagan, had Kate Smith singing Berlin's "God Bless America" which was first performed in 1938.[4] Celine Dion recorded it as a tribute, making it no. 1 on the charts after the September 11 attacks in 2001.[5] And in 2015, pianist and composer Hershey Felder began touring nationwide as a one-man show, portraying Berlin and performing his songs.[6]

Berlin's songs have reached the top of the charts 25 times and have been extensively re-recorded by numerous singers including Eddie Fisher, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire, Ethel Merman, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Deana Martin, Ethel Waters, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt, Rosemary Clooney, Cher, Diana Ross, Bing Crosby, Rita Reys, Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Doris Day, Jerry Garcia, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Ella Fitzgerald. Composer Douglas Moore sets Berlin apart from all other contemporary songwriters, and includes him instead with Stephen Foster, Walt Whitman, and Carl Sandburg, as a "great American minstrel"—someone who has "caught and immortalized in his songs what we say, what we think about, and what we believe."[2] Composer George Gershwin called him "the greatest songwriter that has ever lived",[7]:117 and composer Jerome Kern concluded that "Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music.".[8]

Early life[]

Russian immigrant[]

Life in Russia[]

Berlin was born on May 11, 1888, in Tyumen, Russian Empire. He was one of eight children of Moses (1848–1901) and Lena Lipkin Beilin (1850–1922). [lower-alpha 1] His father, a cantor in a synagogue, uprooted the family to America, as did many other Jewish families in the late 19th century. In 1893 they settled in New York City. As of the 1900 census, the name "Beilin" had changed to "Baline". According to his biographer, Laurence Bergreen, as an adult Berlin admitted to no memories of his first five years in Russia except for one: "he was lying on a blanket by the side of a road, watching his house burn to the ground. By daylight the house was in ashes."[9]:10 As an adult, Berlin said he was unaware of being raised in abject poverty since he knew no other life.[10]:19

Tsar Alexander III of Russia and then Tsar Nicholas II, his son, had revived with utmost brutality the anti-Jewish pogroms, which created the spontaneous mass exodus to America. The pogroms were to continue until 1906, with thousands of other Jewish families also needing to escape, including those of George and Ira Gershwin, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, L. Wolfe Gilbert, Jack Yellen, Louis B. Mayer (of MGM), and the Warner brothers.[10]:14 When they reached Ellis Island, Israel was put in a pen with his brother and five sisters until immigration officials declared them fit to be allowed into the city.[11]

Settling in New York City[]

File:LES, 1910.JPG

Lower East Side in the early 1900s

His Yiddish-speaking family eventually settled on Cherry Street, a windowless cold-water basement flat in the Theater District of the Lower East Side.[12][13] His father, unable to find comparable work as a cantor in New York, took a job at a kosher meat market and gave Hebrew lessons on the side, to support his family. He died a few years later when Irving was thirteen years old.[10]

Now, with only a few years of schooling, eight-year-old Irving found it necessary to take to the streets to help support his family.[2] He became a newspaper boy, hawking The Evening Journal. On his first day of the job, according to Berlin’s biographer and friend, Alexander Woollcott, he stopped to look at a ship departing for China and became so entranced that he didn't see a swinging crane, which knocked him into the river. When he was fished out after going down for the third time, he was still holding in his clenched fist the five pennies he earned that day.[2][14]

His mother took a job as a midwife, and three of his sisters worked wrapping cigars, common for immigrant girls. His older brother worked in a sweatshop assembling shirts. Each evening, when the family came home from their day's work, Bergreen writes, "they would deposit the coins they had earned that day into Lena's outspread apron."[9] :11

Music historian Philip Furia writes that when eight-year-old "Izzy" quit school to sell newspapers in the Bowery, he was exposed to the music and sounds coming from saloons and restaurants that lined the crowded streets. Young Berlin sang some of the songs he heard while selling papers, and people would toss him some coins. He confessed to his mother one evening that his newest ambition in life was to become a singing waiter in a saloon.[15]:48

However, before Berlin was fourteen his meager income was still adding less than his sisters' to the family's budget, which made him feel worthless.[14] He then decided to leave home and join the city's ragged army of other young immigrants.[9]:15 He lived in the Bowery, taking up residence in one of the lodging houses that sheltered the thousands of other homeless boys in the Lower East Side. Bergreen describes them as being uncharitable living quarters, "Dickensian in their meanness, filth, and insensitivity to ordinary human beings."[9]:15

Early jobs[]

File:Irving Berlin 1906.jpg

Berlin at his first job with a music publisher, age 18

With few survival skills having left school at twelve, he realized that formal employment was out of the question.Template:CN His only ability was acquired from his father's vocation as a singer, and he joined with a few other youngsters who went to saloons on the Bowery and sing to customers. Itinerant young singers like them were common on the Lower East Side. Berlin would sing a few of the popular ballads he heard on the street, hoping people would pitch him a few pennies. From these seamy surroundings he became street wise, with a real and lasting education.Template:CN Music was his only source of income and he picked up the language and culture of the ghetto lifestyle.

Berlin learned what kind of songs appealed to audiences, writes Begreen: "well-known tunes expressing simple sentiments were the most reliable."[9]:17 He soon began plugging songs at Tony Pastor's Music Hall in Union Square and in 1906, when he was 18, got a job as a singing waiter at the Pelham Cafe in Chinatown. Besides serving drinks, he sang made-up "blue" parodies of hit songs to the delight of customers.

Biographer Charles Hamm writes that in Berlin's free time after hours, he taught himself to play the piano.[16] Never having lessons, after the bar closed for the night, young Berlin would sit at a piano in the back and begin improvising tunes.[2] His first attempt at actual songwriting was "Marie From Sunny Italy," written in collaboration with the Pelham's resident pianist, Mike Nicholson. A spelling error on the sheet music to the published song included the spelling of his name as 'I. Berlin.'[17] He sold the rights to this, his first song, for 37 cents.[1][lower-alpha 2]

Berlin continued writing and playing music at Pelham Cafe and developing an early style. He liked the words to the songs but sometimes the rhythms were "kind of boggy," and he might change them. One night he delivered some hits composed by his friend, George M. Cohan, another kid who was getting known on Broadway with his own songs. When Berlin ended with Cohan's "Yankee Doodle Boy," notes Whitcomb, "everybody in the joint applauded the feisty little fellow.

Nobel Prize-winning author Rudyard Kipling, living up the coast during that period, said he "was shocked and intrigued by the screeching squalor he found in the dirty gray tenement canyons of immigrant New York."[10]:20 He described it as worse than the slums of Bombay, but was nonetheless "impressed and moved by the Jews," says Whitcomb, noting how the songs by the little immigrant boys "saluted the Stars and Stripes." Kipling wrote, "For these immigrant Jews are a race that survives and thrives against all odds and flags."[10]:20

Recognition as songwriter[]

Max Winslow (c.1883–1942),[22] a staff member at music publisher Harry Von Tilzer Company, noticed Berlin's singing on many occasions and became so taken with his talent that he tried to get him a job with his firm. Von Tilzer said that Max claimed to have "discovered a great kid," and raved about him so much that Von Tilzer hired Berlin.[16]:viii

Later, in 1908, when he was 20, Berlin took a new job at a saloon in the Union Square neighborhood. There, he was able to collaborate with other young songwriters, such as Edgar Leslie, Ted Snyder, Al Piantadosi, and George A. Whiting. In 1909, the year of the premiere of Israel Zangwill's The Melting Pot, he got another big break as a staff lyricist with the Ted Snyder Company.

Songwriting career[]

Before 1920[]

"Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911)[]

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"Ragtime a Form of Insanity"
"'Alexander's Ragtime Band' is a public menace....Hysteria is the form of insanity that an abnormal love for ragtime seems to produce. It is as much a mental disease as acute mania—it has the same symptoms. When there is nothing done to check this form it produces idiocy."

Dr. Ludwig Gruener
German newspaper story[23]:23

Berlin rose as a songwriter in Tin Pan Alley and then on Broadway, where in 1911 he introduced his first world-famous hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band," at the Friars' Frolic. He became an instant celebrity, and the featured performer later that year at Oscar Hammerstein's vaudeville house, where he introduced dozens of other songs. The New York Telegraph described how two hundred of his street friends came to see "their boy" on stage: "All the little writer could do was to finger the buttons on his coat while tears ran down his cheeks—in a vaudeville house!"[16]:ix

File:Irving Berlin - Ragtime.JPG

Berlin with film stars Alice Faye, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche singing chorus from Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)

Richard Corliss, in a Time magazine profile of Berlin, described "Alexander's Ragtime Band" as a march, not a rag, "its savviest musicality comprised quotes from a bugle call and "Swanee River." The tune revived the ragtime fervor that Scott Joplin had begun a decade earlier, and made Berlin a songwriting star.[24] From its first and subsequent releases, the song was near the top of the charts as others sang it: Bessie Smith, in 1927, and Louis Armstrong, in 1937; no. 1 by Bing Crosby and Connee Boswell; Al Jolson, in 1947, Johnny Mercer in 1945, and Nellie Lutcher in 1948. Add Ray Charles's big-band version in 1959, and "Alexander" had a dozen hit versions in just under a half century.[24]

Initially the song was not recognized as a hit, however; Broadway producer Jesse Lasky was uncertain about using it, although he did include it in his “Follies” show. It was performed as an instrumental but did not impress audiences, and was soon dropped from the show’s score. Berlin regarded it as a failure. He then wrote lyrics to the score, played it again in another Broadway Review, and this time Variety news weekly called it "the musical sensation of the decade."[9]:68 Composer George Gershwin, foreseeing its influence, said it was "the first real American musical work," adding, "Berlin had shown us the way; it was now easier to attain our ideal."[7]:117

Sparking a national dance craze[]

File:Irving Berlin in New York City, circa 1911.jpg

Enjoying early success in New York, c. 1911

Berlin was "flabbergasted" by the sudden international popularity of the song, and wondered why it became a sudden hit. He decided it was partly because the lyrics, "silly though it was, was fundamentally right...[and] the melody... started the heels and shoulders of all America and a good section of Europe to rocking."[9]:69

"Watch Your Step"

Furia writes that the international success of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" gave ragtime "new life and sparked a national dance craze." Two dancers who expressed that craze were Irene and Vernon Castle. In 1914, Berlin wrote a ragtime revue, "Watch Your Step," which starred the couple and showcased their talents on stage. That musical revue became Berlin's first complete score with songs that "radiated musical and lyrical sophistication." Berlin's songs signified modernism, and they signified the cultural struggle between Victorian gentility and the "purveyors of liberation, indulgence, and leisure," says Furia. The song "Play a Simple Melody" became the first of his famous "double" songs in which two different melodies and lyrics are counterpointed against one another.[15][25]

Variety called "Watch Your Step" the "first syncopated musical," where the "sets and the girls were gorgeous." Berlin was then twenty-six, and the success of the show was riding on his name alone. Variety said the show was a "terrific hit" from its opening night. It compared Berlin's newfound status as a composer with that of the Times building: "That youthful marvel of syncopated melody is proving things in "Watch Your Step", firstly that he is not alone a rag composer, and that he is one of the greatest lyric writers America has ever produced."[10]:173

Whitcomb also points out the irony that Russia, the country Berlin's family was forced to leave, flung itself into "the ragtime beat with an abandon bordering on mania." Prince Felix Yusupov, for instance, a recent Oxford undergraduate of Russian noble lineage and heir to the largest estate in Russia, was described by his dance partner as "wriggling around the ballroom like a demented worm, screaming for 'more ragtime and more champagne'."[10]:183

Simple and romantic ballads[]

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"My ambition is to reach the heart of the average American, not the highbrow nor the lowbrow but that vast intermediate crew which is the real soul of the country. The highbrow is likely to be superficial, overtrained, supersensitive. The lowbrow is warped, subnormal. My public is the real people."

Irving Berlin[2]:11


With Al Jolson (r), star of The Jazz Singer, c. 1927

Some of the songs Berlin created came out of his own sadness. For instance, in 1912 he married Dorothy Goetz, the sister of songwriter E. Ray Goetz. She died six months later of typhoid fever contracted during their honeymoon in Havana. The song he wrote to express his grief, "When I Lost You," was his first ballad. It was an immediate popular hit and sold more than a million copies.[2]

He began to realize that ragtime was not a good musical style for serious romantic expression, and over the next few years adapted his style by writing more love songs.[15] In 1915 he wrote the hit, "I Love a Piano", a comical and erotic ragtime love song.[26]

By 1918 he had written hundreds of songs, mostly topical, which enjoyed brief popularity. Many of the songs were for the new dances then appearing, such as the "grizzly bear", "chicken walk", or fox trot. After a Hawaiian dance craze began, he wrote "That Hula-Hula", and then did a string of southern songs, such as "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam". During this period, he was creating a few new songs every week, including songs aimed at the various immigrant cultures arriving from Europe. On one occasion, Berlin, whose face was still not known, was on a train trip and decided to entertain the fellow passengers with some music. They asked him how he knew so many hit songs, and Berlin modestly replied, "I wrote them."[15]:53

An important song that Berlin wrote during his transition from writing ragtime to lyrical ballads was "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," which became one of Berlin's "first big guns," says historian Alec Wilder. The song was written for Ziegfeld's Follies of 1919 and became the musical's lead song. Its popularity was so great that it later became the theme for all of Ziegfeld's revues, and the theme song in the 1936 film The Great Ziegfeld.[27] Wilder puts it on the same level as Jerome Kern's "pure melodies," and in comparison with Berlin's earlier music, says it's "extraordinary that such a development in style and sophistication should have taken place in a single year."[15]:53

World War I[]

On April 1, 1917, after President Woodrow Wilson declared that America would enter World War I, Berlin felt that Tin Pan Alley should do its duty and support the war with inspirational songs. Berlin joined up wrote the song, "For Your Country and My Country", stating that "we must speak with the sword not the pen to show our appreciation to America for opening up her heart and welcoming every immigrant group." He also co-wrote a song aimed at ending ethnic conflict, "Let's All Be Americans Now."[10]:197

"Yip Yip Yaphank"
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"At the grand finale... Sergeant Berlin led the entire 300-person cast off the stage, marching them down the theater's aisles, singing 'We're on Our Way to France,' all to tumultuous applause. The cast carried off their little producer like he was victor ludorum...Tin Pan Alley had joined hands with real life"

biographer Ian Whitcomb.[10]:199[28]

In 1917, Berlin was drafted into the United States Army, and the news of his induction became headline news, with one paper headline reading, "Army Takes Berlin!" But the Army only wanted Berlin, now aged 30, to do what he knew best: write songs of patriotism. While stationed with the 152nd Depot Brigade at Camp Upton, he then composed an all-soldier musical revue titled "Yip Yip Yaphank", written to be patriotic tribute to the United States Army.

Berlin's mother, having seen her son perform for the first (and last) time in her life, was shocked. By the following summer, the show was taken to Broadway where it also included a number of hits, including "Mandy" and "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning", which he performed himself.[2]

The shows earned $150,000 for a camp service center. One song he wrote for the show but decided not to use, he would introduce twenty years later: "God Bless America."[24][29]

1920 to 1940[]


Circa 1920


I'll See You in C-U-B-A, cover of 1920 sheet music

Berlin returned to Tin Pan Alley after the war and in 1921 created a partnership with Sam Harris to build the Music Box Theater. He maintained an interest in the theater throughout his life, and even in his last years was known to call the Shubert Organization, his partner, to check on the receipts. In its early years, the theater was a showcase for revues by Berlin. As theater owner, producer and composer, he looked after every detail of his shows, from the costumes and sets to the casting and musical arrangements.[30]

According to Berlin biographer David Leopold, the theater, located at 239 West 45th St., was the only Broadway house built to accommodate the works of a songwriter. It was the home of Berlin's "Music Box Revue" from 1921 to 1925 and "As Thousands Cheer" in 1933 and today includes an exhibition devoted to Berlin in the lobby.[31]

Various Hit songs by Berlin[]

By 1926, Berlin had written the scores to two editions of the Ziegfeld Follies and four "Music Box Revues." Life magazine called him the "Lullaby Kid", noting that "couples at country-club dances grew misty-eyed when the band went into "Always", because they were positive that Berlin had written it just for them. When they quarreled and parted in the crepuscular bitter-sweetness of the 1920s, it was Berlin who gave eloquence to their heartbreak by way of "What'll I Do" and "Remember" and "All Alone."[32]

"What'll I Do?" (1924)

This ballad of love and longing was a hit record for Paul Whiteman and had several other successful recordings in 1924. Twenty-four years later, the song went to no. 22 for Nat Cole and no. 23 for Frank Sinatra.[24]

"Always" (1925)

Written when he fell in love with Ellin Mackay, who later became his wife. The song became a hit twice (for Vincent Lopez and George Olsen) in its first incarnation. There were four more hit versions in 1944–45. In 1959, Sammy Turner took the song to no. 2 on the R&B chart. It became Patsy Cline's postmortem anthem and hit no. 18 on the country chart in 1980, 17 years after her death, and a tribute musical called "Always... Patsy Cline", played a two-year Nashville run that ended in 1995.[24]

"Blue Skies" (1926)

Written after his first daughter's birth as a song just for her. In it he distilled his feelings about being married and a father for the first time: "Blue days, all of them gone; nothing but blue skies, from now on."[33] A hit recording for Ben Selvin and one of several Berlin hits in 1927, it was performed by Al Jolson in the first feature sound film, The Jazz Singer, that same year. In 1946, it returned to the top 10 on the charts with Count Basie and Benny Goodman. In 1978, Willie Nelson made the song a no. 1 country hit, 52 years after it was written.[24]

"Marie" (1929)

This waltz-time song was a hit for Rudy Vallee in 1929, and in 1937, updated to a four-quarter-time swing arrangement, was a top hit for Tommy Dorsey. It was on the charts at no. 13 in 1953 for The Four Tunes and at no. 15 for the Bachelors in 1965, 36 years after its first appearance.[24]

"Puttin' On the Ritz" (1930)

An instant standard with one of Berlin's most "intricately syncopated choruses", this song is associated with Fred Astaire, who danced to it in the 1946 film Blue Skies. It was first sung by Harry Richman in 1930 and became a hit. In 1939, Clark Gable sang it in the movie Idiot's Delight. In 1974 it was featured in the movie Young Frankenstein by Mel Brooks, and was a no. 4 hit for the techno artist Taco in 1983.[34] In 2012 it was used for a flash mob wedding event in Moscow.[35]

"Say It Isn't So" (1932)

Rudy Vallee performed it on his radio show, and the song was a hit for George Olsen, Connee Boswell (she was still known as Connie), and Ozzie Nelson's band. Aretha Franklin produced a single of the song in 1963, 31 years later.[24] Furia notes that when Rudy Vallee first introduced the song on his radio show, the "song not only became an overnight hit, it saved Vallee's marriage: The Vallees had planned to get a divorce, but after Vallee sang Berlin's romantic lyrics on the air, "both he and his wife dissolved in tears" and decided to stay together.[15]

"I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" (1937)

Performed by Dick Powell in the 1937 film On the Avenue. Later it had four top-12 versions, including by Billie Holiday and Les Brown, who took it to no. 1.[24]

"God Bless America" (1938)[]

Main article: God Bless America
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"The song's introduction at that time enshrines a strain of official patriotism intertwined with a religious faith that runs deep in the American psyche. Patriotic razzle-dazzle, sophisticated melancholy and humble sentiments: Berlin songs span the emotional terrain of America with a thoroughness that others may have equaled but none have surpassed."

New York Times[8]

The song was written by Berlin twenty years earlier, but he filed it away until 1938 when Kate Smith needed a patriotic song to mark the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War I.[24] Its release near the end of the Depression, which had by then gone on for nine years enshrined a "strain of official patriotism intertwined with a religious faith that runs deep in the American psyche," stated the New York Times.[8]

Berlin's daughter, Mary Ellen Berlin-Barrett, states that the song was actually "very personal" for her father, and was intended as an expression of his deep gratitude to the nation for merely "allowing" him, an immigrant raised in poverty, to become a successful songwriter.[36] "To me," said Berlin, "'God Bless America' was not just a song but an expression of my feeling toward the country to which I owe what I have and what I am."[37] The Economist magazine writes that "Berlin was producing a deep-felt paean to the country that had given him what he would have said was everything."[38]

File:Pentagon Memorial dedication 2008 Crowd.jpg

Singing "God Bless America" at the Pentagon memorial dedication, September 11, 2008

It quickly became the second National Anthem after America entered World War II a few years later. Over the decades it has earned millions for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to whom Berlin assigned all royalties.[24][29] In 1954, Berlin received a special Congressional Gold Medal from President Dwight D. Eisenhower for contributing the song.[39]

The song was heard after September 11, 2001, as U.S. senators and congressmen stood on the capitol steps and sang it after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. It is often played by sports teams such as major league baseball. The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team started playing it before crucial contests. When the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team pulled off the "greatest upset in sports history," referred to as the "Miracle on Ice", the players spontaneously sang it as Americans were overcome by patriotism.[40][41]

Other songs[]

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 (1929) 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" sung by Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb, "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.

1941 to 1962[]

World War II patriotism—"This is the Army" (1943)[]

File:Irving Berlin aboard the USS Arkansas, 944.jpg

Irving Berlin singing and conducting aboard USS Arkansas, 1944

When the United States joined World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Berlin immediately began composing a number of patriotic songs. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau requested a song to inspire Americans to buy war bonds, for which he wrote "Any Bonds Today?" He assigned all royalties to the United States Treasury Department. He then wrote songs for various government agencies and likewise assigned all profits to them: "Angels of Mercy" for the American Red Cross; "Arms for the Love of America", for the Army Ordnance Department; and "I Paid My Income Tax Today,"[42] again to Treasury.[24]

But his most notable and valuable contribution to the war effort was a stage show he wrote called "This is the Army". It was taken to Broadway and then on to Washington, D.C. (where President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended). It was eventually shown at military bases throughout the world, including London, North Africa, Italy, Middle East, and Pacific countries, sometimes in close proximity to battle zones. Berlin wrote nearly three dozen songs for the show which contained a cast of 300 men. He supervised the production and traveled with it, always singing "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning". The show kept him away from his family for three and a half years, during which time he took neither salary nor expenses, and turned over all profits to the Army Emergency Relief Fund.[43]:81

The play was adapted into a movie of the same name in 1943, directed by Michael Curtiz, co-starring Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan, who was then an army lieutenant. Kate Smith also sang "God Bless America" in the film with a backdrop showing families anxious over the coming war. The show became a hit movie and a morale-boosting road show that toured the battlefronts of Europe.[44] The shows and movie combined raised more than $10 million for the Army,[24] and in recognition of his contributions to troop morale, Berlin was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Harry S. Truman. His daughter, Mary Ellin Barrett, who was 15 when she was at the opening-night performance of "This is the Army" on Broadway, remembered that when her father, who normally shunned the spotlight, appeared in the second act in soldier's garb to sing "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," he was greeted with a standing ovation that lasted 10 minutes. She adds that he was in his mid-50's at the time, and later declared those years with the show were the "most thrilling time of his life."[44]

"Annie Get Your Gun" (1946)[]

The grueling tours Berlin did performing "This Is The Army" left him exhausted, but when his old and close friend Jerome Kern, who was the composer for "Annie Get Your Gun", died suddenly, producers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II persuaded Berlin to take over composing the score.

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"What distinguishes Berlin is the brilliance of his lyrics. 'You Can't Get a Man With a Gun'—that's as good a comic song as has ever been written by anybody. You look at the jokes and how quickly they're told, and it still has a plot to it. It's sophisticated and very underrated."

composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim[45][46]

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, and directed by Joshua Logan. At first Berlin refused to take on the job, claiming that he knew nothing about "hillbilly music", but the show ran for 1,147 performances and became his most successful score. It is said that the showstopper song, "There's No Business Like Show Business", was almost left out of the show altogether because Berlin mistakenly thought that Rodgers and Hammerstein didn't like it. However, it became the "ultimate uptempo show tune."

On the origin of another of the play's leading songs, Logan described how he and Hammerstein privately discussed wanting another duet between Annie and Frank. Berlin overheard their conversation, and although the show was to go into rehearsal with days, he wrote the score to "Anything You Can Do" a few hours later.[47]

File:There's No Business Like Show Business movie poster.jpg

There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)

One reviewer commented about the play's score, that "its tough wisecracking lyrics are as tersely all-knowing as its melody, which is nailed down in brassy syncopated lines that have been copied—but never equaled in sheer melodic memorability—by hundreds of theater composers ever since."[8] McCorkle writes that the score "meant more to me than ever, now that I knew that he wrote it after a grueling world tour and years of separation from his wife and daughters."[43]:81 Historian and composer Alec Wilder says that the perfection of the score, when compared to his earlier works, was "a profound shock."[48]:94

Apparently the "creative spurt" in which Berlin turned out several songs for the score in a single weekend was an anomaly. According to his daughter, he usually "sweated blood" to write his songs.[44] 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. The song "There's No Business Like Show Business" became "Ethel Merman's trademark."[8]

Final shows[]

Berlin's next show, Miss Liberty (1949), was disappointing, but Call Me Madam in 1950, starring Ethel Merman as Sally Adams, a Washington, D.C. socialite, loosely based on the famous Washington hostess Perle Mesta, fared better, giving him his second greatest success. After a failed attempt at retirement, in 1962, at the age of 74, he returned to Broadway with Mr. President. Although it ran for eight months, (with the premiere attended by President John F. Kennedy), it was not one of his successful plays.[24]

Afterwards, Berlin officially announced his retirement and spent his remaining years in New York. He did, however, write a new song, "An Old-Fashioned Wedding," for the 1966 Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun starring Ethel Merman.

Film scores[]


File:Easter Parade poster.jpg

Easter Parade (1948)

In 1922, Madame Butterfly was his first composing film debut. In 1927, his song "Blue Skies", was featured in the first feature-length talkie, The Jazz Singer, with Al Jolson. Later, movies like Top Hat (1935) became the first of a series of distinctive film musicals by Berlin starring performers like Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, and Alice Faye. They usually had light romantic plots and a seemingly endless string of his new and old songs. Similar films included On the Avenue (1937), Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), Holiday Inn (1942), Blue Skies (1946) and Easter Parade (1948), with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.

"White Christmas" (1942)[]

The 1942 film Holiday Inn introduced "White Christmas", one of the most recorded songs in history. First sung in the film by Bing Crosby (along with Marjorie Reynolds), it has sold over 50 million records and stayed no. 1 on the pop and R&B charts for 10 weeks. Crosby's version is the best-selling single of all time. Music critic Stephen Holden credits this partly to the fact that "the song also evokes a primal nostalgia—a pure childlike longing for roots, home and childhood—that goes way beyond the greeting imagery."[8]

Richard Corliss also notes that the song was even more significant having been released soon after America entered World War II: [it] "connected with... GIs in their first winter away from home. To them it voiced the ache of separation and the wistfulness they felt for the girl back home, for the innocence of youth...."[24] Poet Carl Sandburg said, "Way down under this latest hit of his, Irving Berlin catches us where we love peace."[24]

"White Christmas" won Berlin the Academy Award for Best Music in an Original Song, one of seven Oscar nominations he received during his career. In subsequent years, it was re-recorded and became a top-10 seller for numerous artists: Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Ernest Tubb, The Ravens and The Drifters. It would also be the last time a Berlin song went to no. 1 upon its release.

Berlin is the only Academy Award presenter and Academy Award winner to open the "envelope" and read his or her own name (for "White Christmas"). This result was so awkward for Berlin (since he had to present the Oscar to himself) that the Academy changed the rules of protocol the following year to prevent this situation from arising again.

Talking about Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", composer–lyricist Garrison Hintz stated that although songwriting can be a complicated process, its final result should sound simplistic. Considering the fact that "White Christmas" has only eight sentences in the entire song, lyrically Mr. Berlin achieved all that was necessary to eventually sell over 100 million copies and capture the hearts of the American public at the same time.[49]

Songwriting methods[]

According to Saul Bornstein (aka Sol Bourne, Saul Bourne), Berlin's publishing company manager, "It was a ritual for Berlin to write a complete song, words and music, every day."[48]:92 Berlin has said that he "does not believe in inspiration," and feels that although he may be gifted in certain areas, his "most successful compositions were the "result of work." He said he did most of work under pressure. He would typically begin writing after dinner and continue until 4 or 5 in the morning. "Each day I would attend rehearsals," he said, "and at night write another song and bring it down the next day."[50]

Not always certain about his own writing abilities, he once asked a songwriter friend, Victor Herbert, whether he should study composition. "You have a natural gift for words and music," Mr. Herbert told him. "Learning theory might help you a little, but it could cramp your style." Berlin took his advice. Herbert later became a moving force behind the creation of ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. In 1914, Berlin joined him as a charter member of the organization that has protected the royalties of composers and writers ever since.[2]

In later years, Berlin emphasized his conviction, saying that "it's the lyrics that makes a song a hit, although the tune, of course, is what makes it last."[51]:234 He played almost entirely in the key of F sharp so that he could stay on the black notes and owned two transposing pianos so as to change keys.[52] Since Berlin never learned to write music, he paid a professional musician (referred to as a "musical secretary") to harmonize and transcribe the music.[48]:93

As a result, Wilder says that many admirers of the music of Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter were unlikely to consider Berlin's work in the same category because they forgot or never realized that Berlin wrote many popular tunes, such as "Soft Lights and Sweet Music," "Supper Time," and "Cheek to Cheek." Some are even more confused because he also wrote more romantic melodies, such as "What'll I Do?" and "Always."[48] Wilder adds that "in his lyrics as in his melodies, Berlin reveals a constant awareness of the world around him: the pulse of the times, the society in which his is functioning. There is nothing of the hothouse about his work, urban though it may be."[48]

Music styles[]

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"His music has that vitality—both rhythmic and melodic—which never seems to lose any of its exuberant freshness; it has that rich, colorful melodic flow which is ever the wonder of all those of who, too, compose songs; his ideas are endless."

composer George Gershwin[7]:117

Composer Jerome Kern recognized that the essence of Irving Berlin's lyrics was his "faith in the American vernacular" and was so profound that his best-known songs "seem indivisible from the country's history and self-image." Kern, along with George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Cole Porter brought together Afro-American, Latin American, rural pop, and European operetta.[8]

Berlin, however, did not follow that method. Instead, says music critic Stephen Holden, Berlin's songs were always simple, "exquisitely crafted street songs whose diction feels so natural that one scarcely notices the craft....they seem to flow straight out of the rhythms and inflections of everyday speech."[8] It led composer George Gershwin to claim that he learned from Berlin that ragtime, which later became jazz, "was the only musical idiom in existence that could aptly express America."[7]:117

Among Berlin's contemporaries was Cole Porter, whose music style was often considered more "witty, sophisticated, [and] dirty," according to musicologist Susannah McCorkle. Of the five top songwriters, only Porter and Berlin wrote both their own words and music. However, she notes that Porter, unlike Berlin, was a Yale-educated and wealthy Midwesterner whose songs were not successful until he was in his thirties. She notes further that it was "Berlin [who] got Porter the show that launched his career."[43]:76

Personal life[]


In 1912, he married Dorothy Goetz, the sister of the songwriter E. Ray Goetz. She died six months later of typhoid fever, which she contracted during their honeymoon in Havana. The song he wrote to express his grief, "When I Lost You," was his first ballad.


With wife Ellin, c. 1920s

Years later in the 1920s, he fell in love with a young heiress, Ellin Mackay, the daughter of Clarence Mackay, the socially prominent head of the Postal Telegraph Cable Company. Because Berlin was Jewish and she was Catholic, their life was followed in every possible detail by the press, which found the romance of an immigrant from the Lower East Side and a young heiress a good story.[2]

They met in 1925, and her father opposed the match from the start. He went so far as to send her off to Europe to find other suitors and forget Mr. Berlin. However, Berlin wooed her over the airwaves with his songs "Remember" and "Always." Biographer Philip Furia writes that newspapers rumored they were engaged before she returned from Europe, and some Broadway shows even performed skits of the "lovelorn songwriter." After her return, she and Berlin were besieged by the press, which followed them everywhere. Variety reported that her father vowed that their marriage "would only happen 'over my dead body.'"[51] As a result, they decided to elope and were married in a simple civil ceremony at the Municipal Building away from media attention.

The wedding news made the front-page of the New York Times. The marriage took her father by surprise, and he was stunned upon reading about it. The bride's mother, however, who was at the time divorced from Mr. Mackay, wanted her daughter follow the dictates of her own heart. They had in fact gone to her mother's home before the wedding and had obtained her blessing.[53]

There followed reports that the bride's father now disowned his daughter because of the marriage. In response, Berlin assigned all rights to a number of popular songs, including "Always", a song still played at weddings today, to her. Ellin Mackay was thereby guaranteed a steady income regardless of what might happen with the marriage. For years, Mr. Mackay refused to speak to the Berlins, but during the Depression five years later, Berlin is said to have helped his father-in-law who had suffered financially after the stock market crash.[2]

Their marriage remained a love affair and they were inseparable until she died in July 1988 at the age of 85. They had four children during their 63 years of marriage: Irving, who died in infancy on Christmas Day 1928; Mary Ellin Barrett and Elizabeth Irving Peters of New York, and Linda Louise Emmet, who lived in Paris.[2]


In 1916, in the earlier phase of Berlin's career, producer and composer George M. Cohan, during a toast to the young Berlin at a Friar's Club dinner in his honor, said, "The thing I like about Irvie is that although he has moved up-town and made lots of money, it hasn't turned his head. He hasn't forgotten his friends, he doesn't wear funny clothes, and you will find his watch and his handkerchief in his pockets, where they belong."[50]

File:HD.11.040 (10995684853).jpg

Lower East Side in 1909. He said he never forgot his childhood years when he slept under tenement steps, ate scraps, wore secondhand clothes and sold newspapers. "Every man should have a Lower East Side in his life," said Berlin.

Furia says that throughout Berlin's life he often returned on foot to his old neighborhoods in Union Square, Chinatown, and the Bowery.[51] He never forgot those childhood years when he "slept under tenement steps, ate scraps, and wore secondhand clothes," and described those years as hard but good. "Every man should have a Lower East Side in his life," he said. He used to visit The Music Box Theater, which he founded and which still stands at 239 West Forty-Fifth St. From 1947 to 1989, Berlin's home in New York City was 17 Beekman Place.[54]

George Frazier of Life magazine found Berlin to be "intensely nervous," with a habit of tapping his listener with his index finger to emphasize a point, and continually pressing his hair down in back" and "picking up any stray crumbs left on a table after a meal." While listening, "he leans forward tensely, with his hands clasped below his knees like a prizefighter waiting in his corner for the bell.... For a man who has known so much glory," writes Frazier, "Berlin has somehow managed to retain the enthusiasm of a novice."[32]

Berlin's daughter wrote in her memoir that her father was a loving, if workaholic, family man who was "basically an upbeat person, with down periods." In his final decades he retreated from public life.[43] Although her parents liked to celebrate every single holiday with their children, "They seemed to understand the importance, particularly in childhood, of the special day, the same every year, the special stories, foods, and decorations and that special sense of well-being that accompanies a holiday."[43]:80 Although he did comment to his daughter about her mother's lavish Christmas spending, "I gave up trying to get your mother to economize. It was easier just to make more money."

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"I gave up trying to get your mother to economize. It was easier just to make more money."

Irving Berlin, to his daughter[43]

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 also became more conservative in his views on music. According to his daughter, "He was consumed by patriotism." He often said, "I owe all my success to my adopted country" and once rejected his lawyers' advice to invest in tax shelters, insisting, "I want to pay taxes. I love this country."[43]:80

Berlin was a Freemason, and was a member of Munn Lodge no. 190, New York City, the Scottish Rite Valley of New York City, and Mecca Shrine Temple.[55]

Berlin was devoted to the Jewish faith and was a staunch advocate of civil rights. Berlin was later honored in 1944 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews for "advancing the aims of the conference to eliminate religious and racial conflict."[56] In 1949, the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) honored him as one the twelve "most outstanding Americans of Jewish faith."[56] However, according to his daughter, Mary Ellin Barrett, he later on became an agnostic and a non-believer.[57] Berlin's Civil Rights Movement support also made him a target of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who continuously investigated him for years.[58]


File:Irving Berlin Grave 1024.jpg

The grave of Irving Berlin in Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York City

Berlin died in his sleep on September 22, 1989 of natural causes, in New York City at the age of 101. He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City. He was survived by three daughters: Mary Ellin Barrett and Elizabeth Irving Peters of New York, and Linda Louise Emmet, who lives in Paris. He is also survived by nine grandchildren: Edward Watson Emmet (born May 1968), Ellin Emmet, and Caroline Emmet from daughter Linda; Elizabeth Matson (born in 1954), Irving Barrett (born in 1955), Mary Ellin Barrett Lerner (born in 1956), and Katherine Swett (born in 1960), from daughter Mary Ellin; and Emily Anstice Fisher (born circa 1966) and Rachel, from daughter Elizabeth and six great-grandchildren Peter and James Matson; Benjamin Lerner; Rachel, Nicholas and William Swett, Madeleine and Isobel Fletcher.[2]

On the evening following the announcement of his death, the marquee lights of Broadway playhouses were dimmed before curtain time in his memory. President George H. W. Bush said Mr. Berlin was "a legendary man whose words and music will help define the history of our nation." Just minutes before the President's statement was released, he joined a crowd of thousands to sing Berlin's "God Bless America" at a luncheon in Boston. Former President Ronald Reagan, who costarred in Berlin's 1943 musical This Is the Army, said, "Nancy and I are deeply saddened by the death of a wonderfully talented man whose musical genius delighted and stirred millions and will live on forever."[59]

Morton Gould, the composer and conductor who was president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), of which Irving Berlin was a founder, said, "What to me is fascinating about this unique genius is that he touched so many people in so many age groups over so many years. He sounded our deepest feelings—happiness, sadness, celebration, loneliness." Ginger Rogers, who danced to Berlin tunes with Fred Astaire, told The Associated Press upon hearing of his death that working with Mr. Berlin had been "like heaven."[59]

Legacy and influence[]

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"Other nations are defined by their classical composers. America is appropriately defined musically by this Russian immigrant...Germany has Beethoven, France, Ravel, Poland, Chopin, Italy, Verdi; America has Irving Berlin. Though he's not here with us tonight, he will be with us always. Wherever there is America, there is Irving Berlin."

Walter Cronkite
Kennedy Center Tribute to Irving Berlin, 1987[60]

The New York Times, after his death in 1989, wrote, "Irving Berlin set the tone and the tempo for the tunes America played and sang and danced to for much of the 20th century." An immigrant from Russia, his life became the "classic rags-to-riches story that he never forgot could have happened only in America."[2] During his career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs[30] and was a legend by the time he turned 30. He went on to write the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films, with his songs nominated for Academy Awards on eight occasions. Music historian Susannah McCorkle writes that "in scope, quantity, and quality his work was amazing."[43] Others, such as Broadway musician Anne Phillips, says simply that "the man is an American institution."[61]

During his six-decade career, from 1907 to 1966, he produced sheet music, Broadway shows, recordings, and scores played on radio, in films and on television, and his tunes continue to evoke powerful emotions for millions around the world. He wrote songs like "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Cheek to Cheek", "There's No Business Like Show Business", "Blue Skies" and "Puttin' On the Ritz." Some of his songs have become holiday anthems, such as "Easter Parade", "White Christmas" and "Happy Holiday". "White Christmas" alone sold over 50 million records, the top single selling song in recording history, won an ASCAP and an Academy Award, and is one of the most frequently played songs ever written.[2] According to McCorkle, of the top five songwriters in America, only Berlin and Cole Porter wrote both their words and music.[43]

In 1938, "God Bless America" became the unofficial national anthem of the United States, and on September 11, 2001, members of the House of Representatives stood on the steps of the Capitol and solemnly sang "God Bless America" together. The song returned to no. 1 shortly after 9/11, when Celine Dion recorded it as the title track of a 9/11 benefit album. The following year, the Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp of Berlin. By then, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of New York had received more than $10 million in royalties from "God Bless America" as a result of Berlin's donation of royalties.[30] According to music historian Gary Giddins, "No other songwriter has written as many anthems.... No one else has written as many pop songs, period... [H]is gift for economy, directness, and slang, presents Berlin as an obsessive, often despairing commentator on the passing scene."[62]:405

In 1934, Life put him on its cover and inside hailed "this itinerant son of a Russian cantor" as "an American institution."[33] And again in 1943 the same magazine described his songs as follows:

They possess a permanence not generally associated with Tin Pan Alley products and it is more than remotely possible that in days to come Berlin will be looked upon as the Stephen Foster of the 20th century.[32]

At various times, his songs were also rallying cries for different causes: He produced musical editorials supporting Al Smith and Dwight Eisenhower as presidential candidates, he wrote songs opposing Prohibition, defending the gold standard, calming the wounds of the Great Depression, and helping the war against Hitler, and in 1950 he wrote an anthem for the state of Israel.[24] Biographer David Leopold adds that "We all know his songs... they are all part of who we are."

At his 100th-birthday celebration in May 1988, violinist Isaac Stern said, "The career of Irving Berlin and American music were intertwined forever—American music was born at his piano,"[2] while songwriter Sammy Cahn pointed out: "If a man, in a lifetime of 50 years, can point to six songs that are immediately identifiable, he has achieved something. Irving Berlin can sing 60 that are immediately identifiable... [Y]ou couldn't have a holiday without his permission."[2] Composer Douglas Moore added:

It's a rare gift which sets Irving Berlin apart from all other contemporary songwriters. It is a gift which qualifies him, along with Stephen Foster, Walt Whitman, Vachel Lindsay and Carl Sandburg, as a great American minstrel. He has caught and immortalized in his songs what we say, what we think about, and what we believe.[2]

ASCAP's records show that 25 of Berlin's songs reached the top of the charts and were re-recorded by dozens of famous singers over the years, such as Eddie Fisher, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Diana Ross, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. In 1924, when Berlin was 36, his biography, The Story of Irving Berlin, was being written by Alexander Woollcott. In a letter to Woollcott, Jerome Kern offered what one writer said "may be the last word" on the significance of Irving Berlin:

Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world—simplified, clarified and glorified.[8]

Composer George Gershwin (1898–1937) also tried to describe the importance of Berlin's compositions:

I want to say at once that I frankly believe that Irving Berlin is the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.... His songs are exquisite cameos of perfection, and each one of them is as beautiful as its neighbor. Irving Berlin remains, I think, America's Schubert. But apart from his genuine talent for song-writing, Irving Berlin has had a greater influence upon American music than any other one man. It was Irving Berlin who was the very first to have created a real, inherent American music.... Irving Berlin was the first to free the American song from the nauseating sentimentality which had previously characterized it, and by introducing and perfecting ragtime he had actually given us the first germ of an American musical idiom; he had sown the first seeds of an American music.[7]:117

Awards and honors[]

  • Received the Army's Medal of Merit on October 2, 1945 from General George C. Marshall, at the direction of President Harry S. Truman, in appreciation for writing the music and lyrics to "This Is the Army."
  • Won a Tony Award in 1951 for Best Score for the musical, Call Me Madam.
  • Received a special Congressional Gold Medal in 1954 from President Dwight D. Eisenhower for contributing the song, "God Bless America." Berlin had also written three songs for his candidacy, including "I Like Ike."
  • Won a Special Tony Award (New York City) in 1963 for his contributions to the American musical.
  • Awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1968.
  • Was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
  • Was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 by President Gerald Ford
  • Won a Lawrence Langner Tony Award (New York City) in 1978 for his distinguished life in the American theater.
  • Awarded (in absentia,) a Medal of Liberty during centennial celebrations for the Statue of Liberty in 1986.
  • His 100th-birthday celebration concert for the benefit of Carnegie Hall and ASCAP on May 11, 1988.
  • Inducted into the Jewish-American Hall of Fame in 1988.[56]
  • Awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 1, 1994.
  • Received induction into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[63]

Musical scores[]

The following list includes scores mostly produced by Berlin. Although some of the plays using his songs were later adapted to films, the list will not include the film unless he was the primary composer.[9]


Film scores[]

Song lists[]

Main article: List of Irving Berlin songs


  1. There are several possibilities concerning his birth city. His daughter, Mary Ellin Barrett, states it was in Tyumen, Siberia. Other sources list one of several villages near the city of Mogilyov, Russian Empire (now Belarus).
  2. Berlin never learned to play in more than one key and used two special pianos (his first piano, purchased second-hand in 1909, was made by Weser Brothers, augmented in 1921 by a second from Somner Brothers) with transposing levers to change keys.[18][19] Berlin demonstrated his transposing keyboard during a television show with Dinah Shore,[20] and the piano was placed on display in Belgium's Red Star Line Museum in 2013.[21]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Starr, Larry and Waterman, Christopher, American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3, Oxford University Press, 2009, pg. 64
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 “Irving Berlin, Nation's Songwriter, Dies” New York Times, September 23, 1989
  3. Carnegie Hall, May 27, 1988, Irving Berlin's 100th birthday celebration
  4. "Kate Smith, "God Bless America", 5 min.
  5. "God Bless America" performed by Celine Dion"
  6. "Review: ‘Irving Berlin’ takes the measure of a musical giant", San Diego Union, December 18, 2015
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Wyatt, Robert; Johnson, John A. The George Gershwin Reader, Oxford Univ. Press (2004)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 "Pop View; Irving Berlin's American Landscape" New York Times, May 10, 1987
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Bergreen, Laurence. As Thousands Cheer, Viking Penguin, 1990
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 Whitcomb, Ian. Irving Berlin and Ragtime America, Limelight Editions (1988)
  11. "Irving Berlin - The Voice of the City", BBC Bristol and A&E network's 1988 broadcast
  12. Jack Gottlieb (2004). Funny It Doesn't Sound Jewish: How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influences Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood. SUNY Press. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  13. "Reviving, Revisiting Yiddish Culture", Mark Swed, LA Times, October 20, 1998
  14. 14.0 14.1 Woollcott, Alexander. The Story of Irving Berlin, Da Capo Press, 1983
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 Furia, Philip. The Poets of Tin Pan Alley, Oxford Univ. Press (1992)
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Hamm, Charles. Irving Berlin: Songs from the Melting Pot, Oxford Univ. Press, 1997
  17. Freedland, Michael. 'Irving Berlin', Stein and Day, 1974
  18. Transposing Upright Piano. National Museum of American History.
  19. The Irving Berlin Reader, ed. Benjamin Sears, pp. 190-191
  20. Irving Berlin on television plays his transposing keyboard, video, 1 minute
  21. "Red Star Line Museum migration stories include Irving Berlin, Albert Einstein", Masslive, Oct. 4, 2013
  22. [ Displaying Abstract ] (June 10, 2012). ""Max Winslow Dead", New York Times, June 9, 1942". Retrieved January 19, 2013.
  23. Leopold, David. Irving Berlin's Show Business, Harry Abrams (2005)
  24. 24.00 24.01 24.02 24.03 24.04 24.05 24.06 24.07 24.08 24.09 24.10 24.11 24.12 24.13 24.14 24.15 24.16 Corliss, Richard. "That Old Christmas Feeling: Irving America: Richard Corliss remembers Irving Berlin" TIME Magazine. December 24, 2001
  25. audio: "Play A Simple Melody", with Bing and Gary Crosby
  26. "I Love A Piano Lyrics – Irving Berlin". Retrieved January 19, 2013.
  27. video: "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody"
  28. video:Irving Berlin's "We're on our way to France", from This is the Army (1943)
  29. 29.0 29.1 "Swing Music History". Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 "Dreaming of Irving Berlin In the Season That He Owned" New York Times, December 23, 2005
  31. Leopold, David. Irving Berlin's Show Business: Broadway—Hollywood—America, Harry N. Abrams, 2005
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 Frazier, George. Life Magazine, April 5, 1943, pgs. 79–88
  33. 33.0 33.1 Irving Berlin: An American Song, film, 1999
  34. Taco - Puttin on the Ritz (1983)
  35. Flashmob Moscow (Russia) : Putting on the ritz 2012
  36. "Irving Berlin Spotlight Interview" on YouTube
  37. Galewitz, Herb. Music: A Book of Quotations, Courier Dover Publ. (2001) p. 4
  38. "Hand on heart. (Irving Berlin)." The Economist , September 30, 1989
  39. video: "Irving Berlin gets medal from Ike 1954" on YouTube, 1 min.
  40. Bacon, John U., "Oh, Say Can You See a New Anthem?" Ann Arbor Chronicle, February 20, 2010
  41. "College kids perform Olympic miracle" ESPN TV network
  42. Danny Kaye's Musical Tribute to the Income Tax, George Mason's History News Network, November 14, 2008, retrieved April 17, 2012
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 43.3 43.4 43.5 43.6 43.7 43.8 McCorkle, Susannah. "Always: A Singer's Journey Through the Life of Irving Berlin", American Heritage, November 1998, pgs 74–84
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Recalling the Somber Man Behind So Many Happy Songs" New York Times (book review), January 20, 1995
  45. Rich, Frank."Conversations With Sondheim" New York Times, March 12, 2000
  46. Betty Hutton sings "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun"
  47. "Ethel Merman, Joshua Logan, 90th Birthday Tribute to Irving Berlin"
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 48.3 48.4 Wilder, Alec. American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950, Oxford Univ. Press (1972)
  49. Ascap magazine article,Tribute to Irving Berlin December 1989
  50. 50.0 50.1 "The Story of Irving Berlin" New York Times, January 2, 1916
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 Furia, Philip. Irving Berlin: A Life in Song Schirmer Books, (1998)
  52. "The Straight Dope: If Irving Berlin couldn't read or write music, how did he compose?".
  53. "Ellin Mackay Wed to Irving Berlin; Surprises Father", New York Times, page one, January 5, 1926
  54. "Irving Berlin's Former Beekman Place Home Chronicled in New Book". DNAinfo New York.
  55. "Famous Masons I: Dreamers and Doers". Grand Lodge of the State of New York. Archived from the original on November 10, 2013. Retrieved January 2014. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  56. 56.0 56.1 56.2 "Jewish-American Hall of Fame – Virtual Tour". January 15, 2007. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  57. Mary Ellin Barrett (1995). Irving Berlin: a daughter's memoir. Simon & Schuster. pp. 98–99, 123–124. ISBN 9780671711498. All three of us would share our father's agnosticism and sidestep our husbands' faiths. ...If I can picture my father, the nonbeliever, it is listening to the reading, learning just like me, for he had long ago forgotten the story, pleased that this is what my mother and I are doing.
  58. Congressional Record, V. 144, Pt. 1, January 27, 1998 to February 13, 1998, pg. 679
  59. 59.0 59.1 "Berlin's Work Is Recalled With Words and Music" New York Times, September 24, 1989
  60. Kennedy Center Tribute to Irving Berlin, 1987
  61. "SING! SING! SING! Salutes Irving Berlin", November 3, 2010
  62. Giddins, Gary. Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of its Second Century, Oxford Univ. Press (2004)
  63. "Theater Hall of Fame members".


  • Barrett, Mary Ellin (1994). Irving Berlin: A Daughter’s Memoir. ISBN 0-671-72533-5.
  • Berry, David Carson (2001). “Gambling with Chromaticism? Extra-Diatonic Melodic Expression in the Songs of Irving Berlin,” Theory and Practice 26, 21–85.
  • Berry, David Carson (1999). “Dynamic Introductions: The Affective Role of Melodic Ascent and Other Linear Devices in Selected Song Verses of Irving Berlin,” Intégral 13, 1–62.
  • Hamm, Charles, ed. (1994). Early Songs, 1907–1914. Music of the United States of America (MUSA) vol. 2. Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions.
  • Hischak, Thomas S. (1991). Word Crazy, Broadway Lyricists from Cohan to Sondheim. ISBN 0-275-93849-2.
  • Magee, Jeffrey (2012). Irving Berlin’s American Musical Theatre. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-539826-7.
  • Rosen, Jody (2002). White Christmas: The Story of an American Song. ISBN 0-7432-1875-2.
  • Sears, Benjamin, ed. (2012). The Irving Berlin Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-538374-4.

External links[]

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