The Music of Irving Berlin

In the 20th Century, we have been blessed with some of the best composers of popular music. American composers such as George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin have produced some of the most well known music of our time. And out of this group of talented composers, no one has been responsible for a variety of music in different genres than Irving Berlin.

Born May 11, 1888 as Israel Isidore Baline in Belarus Russia, his family escape the persecution of Russian Jews in the late 1800’s and moved to America. Eventually settling in New York City, his family led a humble existence, and as a youngster he quit school and sent on to try various jobs at a young age. He eventually gravitated towards his fathers love of music and decided to try music to make a living. When he entered the entertainment field he selected the name Irving Berlin.

Berlin started to work as a singer/songwriter/composer in New York and quickly made a name for himself. During this time period he began to work with other young musicians in perfecting their craft. Berlin’s first hit came in 1911, at the age of 23. His song “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, became an instant hit on Broadway and beyond.

When World War I broke out, Berlin was drafted into the Army, and while in the Army still used his songwriting ability. While in the Army he wrote songs such as “Mandy”, “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning”, and a song that would be a hit at a later date “God Bless America”.

After the War he continued to write songs on Broadway. Over the next few decades, Berlin wrote songs such as “What’ll I Do?”, “Blue Skies” and “Puttin on the Ritz” which were hits for various singers of the time. But, in 1938, with the United States recognizing the 20th Anniversary of Armistice Day, Kate Smith was looking for a patriotic song to sing at the event. Berlin was asked if he had any songs that would fit the occasion, and he gave her a song that would forever be linked with Kate Smith and patriotism – “God Bless, America”.

Berlin continued to write classic music, for all occasions, during the majority of the decade. He wrote songs for various performers, songs for Broadway and also wrote songs and music for the movies. Some of the more famous songs that Berlin wrote include “This is the Army, Mr. Jones”, “Happy Holiday”, “White Christmas”, “Annie Get Your Gun” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Irving Berlin has been called one of the greatest songwriters in American music history, and has provided us with some of the most memorable standards and show tunes. Berlin was a prolific songwriter who wrote all types of music, and remained active in the business until the 1960’s. Irving Berlin died at age 101 on September 22, 1989 in New York City. However, he leaves a legacy in music that will be unsurpassed.