powered by FreeFind


Irving Berlin

- a brief biography

Irving BerlinWith a life that spanned more than 100 years and a catalogue that boasted over 1000 songs, Irving Berlin epitomised Jerome Kern's famous maxim, that "Irving Berlin has no place in American music - he is American music".

Irving Berlin was born Israel Berlin in May 1888. When his father died, Berlin, just turned 13, took to the streets in various jobs, working as a busker, singing for pennies, then as a singer / waiter in a Chinatown café. 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 included: 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, Heatwave, Easter Parade, and Lets 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 Purchase, Miss Liberty, Mister President, Call 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 to Home Alone. Among his many awards were a special Tony Award (1963) and the Academy Award for Best Song of the Year (White Christmas) in 1942. 

An intuitive business man, Irving Berlin was a co-founder of ASCAP, founder of his own music publishing company, and, with producer Sam Harris, built his own Broadway Theatre, the Music Box. An unabashed patriot, his love for, and generosity to, his country is legendary. Through many 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 organisations. 

Irving Berlin's centennial in 1988 was celebrated world-wide, culminating in an all-star tribute at Carnegie Hall featuring such varied luminaries of the musical world as Frank Sinatra, Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Natalie Cole and Willie Nelson. On September 22nd 1989, at the age of 101, Berlin died in his sleep in New York City.