a life that spanned more than 100 years and a catalogue that
boasted over 1000 songs, Irving Berlin epitomized Jerome
Kern's famous maxim that "Irving Berlin has no
place in American music -- he is American
Irving Berlin was born Israel Beilin
on May 11, 1888. One of eight children, his exact place of
birth is unknown, although his family had been living in Tolochin,
when they immigrated to New York in 1893. When his father
died, Berlin, just turned 13, took to the streets in various
odd jobs, working as a busker singing for pennies, then as a
singing waiter in a Chinatown Cafe. In 1907 he published his
first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy," and by 1911
he had his first major international hit --
"Alexander's Ragtime Band."
Over the next five decades, Irving Berlin produced an
outpouring of ballads, dance numbers, novelty tunes and love
songs that defined American popular song for much of the
century. A sampling of just some of the Irving Berlin
standards includes "How Deep Is the Ocean,"
"Blue Skies," "White
Christmas," "Always," "Anything You
Can Do I Can Do Better," "There's No Business Like
Show Business," "Cheek to Cheek,"
"Puttin' on the Ritz," "A Pretty Girl is Like
a Melody," "Heat Wave," "Oh! How I Hate
to Get Up in the Morning," "Easter Parade"
and "Let's Face the Music and Dance." In a class
by itself is his beloved paean to his beloved country,
"God Bless America."
He was equally at home writing for Broadway and
Hollywood. He wrote seventeen complete scores for Broadway
musicals and revues, and contributed material to six more.
Among the shows featuring all-Berlin scores were THE
COCOANUTS, AS THOUSANDS CHEER, LOUISIANA
ME MADAM and the phenomenally successful ANNIE
GET YOUR GUN.
Among the Hollywood movie musical classics with scores by
Irving Berlin are TOP HAT, FOLLOW THE FLEET, ON THE AVENUE,
ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND, HOLIDAY INN, THIS IS THE ARMY,
BLUE SKIES, EASTER PARADE, WHITE CHRISTMAS and THERE'S NO
BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS. His songs have provided
memorable moments in dozens of other films, from THE JAZZ
SINGER (1927) to HOME ALONE (1991). Among his many awards
were a special Tony Award (1963) and the Academy Award for
Best Song of the Year for "White Christmas" in
An intuitive business man, Irving Berlin was a co-founder
of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and
Publishers), founder of his own music publishing company,
and with producer Sam Harris, builder of his own Broadway
theatre, The Music Box. An unabashed patriot, his love for -
and generosity to - his country is legendary, and through
several of his foundations, including The God Bless America
Fund and This is The Army Inc., he donated millions of
dollars in royalties to Army Emergency Relief, the Boy and
Girl Scouts and other organizations. His actions were
acknowledged with such accolades as the Army's Medal of
Merit from President Truman in 1945, a Congressional Gold
Medal for "God Bless America" and other patriotic
songs from President Eisenhower in 1955 and the Freedom
Medal from President Ford in 1977.
Irving Berlin's centennial in 1988 was celebrated
worldwide, culminating in an all-star tribute at Carnegie
Hall benefitting the Hall and ASCAP, subsequently an Emmy
Award winning special on CBS, and featuring such varied
luminaries of the musical world as Frank Sinatra, Leonard
Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Natalie Cole and Willie Nelson.
On September 22, 1989, at the age of 101, Irving Berlin
died in his sleep in his town house in New York City. A
widower since his wife of 62 years, the former Ellin Mackay,
had died the previous year at the age of 85, Berlin is
survived by three daughters, nine grandchildren and six