|Birth Day:||May 11, 1888|
|Death Date:||Sep 22, 1989 (age 101)|
|Height:||in centimeters - N/A|
|Weight:||in kg - N/A|
As per our current Database, Irving Berlin died on Sep 22, 1989 (age 101).
His house was burned down in an act of antisemitism. His first international hit was Alexander's Ragtime Band from 1911, which started a worldwide dance craze.
Berlin was born Israel Beilin on May 11, 1888, in the Russian Empire. Although his family came from the shtetl of Tolochin (today in Belarus), documents say that he was born in Tyumen, Siberia. He was one of eight children of Moses (1848–1901) and Lena Lipkin Beilin (1850–1922). His father, a cantor in a synagogue, uprooted the family to America, as did many other Jewish families in the late 19th century.
On September 14, 1893, the family arrived at Ellis Island in New York City. When they arrived, Israel was put in a pen with his brother and five sisters until immigration officials declared them fit to be allowed into the city.
Berlin learned what kind of songs appealed to audiences, writes Begreen: "well-known tunes expressing simple sentiments were the most reliable." 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.
Later, in 1908, when he was 20, Berlin took a new job at a saloon named Jimmy Kelly's 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.
Berlin rose as a songwriter in Tin Pan Alley and on Broadway. In 1911, Emma Carus introduced his first world-famous hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band", followed by a performance from Berlin himself at the Friars' Frolic of 1911. 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!"
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.
In February 1912, after a brief whirlwind courtship, he married 20-year-old Dorothy Goetz of Buffalo, New York, the sister of one of Berlin's collaborators, E. Ray Goetz. During their honeymoon in Havana, she contracted typhoid fever, and doctors were unable to treat her illness when she returned to New York. She died July 17 of that year and was buried in Buffalo. Left with writer's block for months after Goetz's death, he eventually wrote his first ballad, "When I Lost You," to express his grief.
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." In 1913, Berlin was featured in the London revue Hello Ragtime, where he introduced "That International Rag", a song he had written for the occasion.
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 Vernon and Irene 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.
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. In 1920, Irving Berlin became a member of SACEM, the French Society of Authors, Composers, and Publishers.
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. In 1915 he wrote the hit "I Love a Piano", a comical and erotic ragtime love song.
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."
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 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."
In 1917, Berlin was drafted into the United States Army, and his induction became headline news, with one paper headline reading, "Army Takes Berlin!" But the Army wanted Berlin, now aged 30, to do what he knew best: write songs. 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. 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.
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 foxtrot. 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."
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.
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.
They met in 1924, 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 Berlin. However, Berlin wooed her with letters and song over the airwaves such as "Remember" and "All Alone," and she wrote him daily. 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.'" As a result, they decided to elope and were married in a simple civil ceremony at the Municipal Building away from media attention.
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:
By 1926, Berlin had written the scores to two editions of the Ziegfeld Follies and four "Music Box Revues." Berlin's "Music Box Revues" spanned the years of 1921-1926, premiering songs such as "Say It With Music", "Everybody Step", and "Pack Up Your Things and Go to the Devil". 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 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."
Richard Corliss, in a Time 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. 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; Johnny Mercer in 1945; Al Jolson, in 1947 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.
Written after his first daughter's birth, 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." The song was introduced by Belle Baker in Betsy, a Ziegfeld production. It became 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.
In 1927, his song "Blue Skies", was featured in the first feature-length talkie, The Jazz Singer, with Al Jolson. Later, movies such as Top Hat (1935) became the first of a series of distinctive film musicals by Berlin starring performers Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, and Alice Faye. Top Hat featured a brand new score, as did several more, including Follow the Fleet (1936), On the Avenue (1937), Carefree (1938), and Second Fiddle (1939). Starting with Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), he often blended new songs with existing ones from his catalog. He continued this process with the films Holiday Inn (1942), Blue Skies (1946) and Easter Parade (1948), with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, and There's No Business Like Show Business (1954).
There followed reports that the bride's father now disowned his daughter because of the marriage. In response, Berlin gave the rights to "Always", a song still played at weddings, to her as a wedding present. Ellin Mackay was thereby guaranteed a steady income regardless of what might happen with the marriage. For years, Mackay refused to speak to the Berlins, but they reconciled after the Berlins lost their first son, Irving Berlin Jr., on Christmas Eve in 1928, less than one month after he was born.
This waltz-time song was a hit for Rudy Vallée 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.
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.
In 1934, Time put him on its cover and inside hailed "this itinerant son of a Russian cantor" as "an American institution." And again, in 1943, the same magazine described his songs as follows:
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. 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."
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.
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. 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."
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. 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.
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, whose voice was dubbed by Martha Mears), 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."
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. The shows and movie combined raised more than $10 million for the Army, and in recognition of his contributions to troop morale, Berlin was awarded the Medal for 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-50s at the time, and later declared those years with the show were the "most thrilling time of his life."
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 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."
Berlin was a staunch advocate of civil rights. Berlin was honored in 1944 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews for "advancing the aims of the conference to eliminate religious and racial conflict." His 1943 production "This Is The Army", was the first integrated division army unit in the United States. In 1949, the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) honored him as one the twelve "most outstanding Americans of Jewish faith." While he was ethnically and culturally Jewish, he was religiously agnostic. Berlin's Civil Rights Movement support also made him a target of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who continuously investigated him for years.
An instant standard with one of Berlin's most "intricately syncopated choruses", this song is associated with Fred Astaire, who sang and danced to it in the 1946 film Blue Skies. The song was written in 1928 with a separate set of lyrics and was introduced by Harry Richman in 1930 of the same name. 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. In 2012 it was used for a flash mob wedding event in Moscow.
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. Berlin made two attempts to write a musical about his friend, the colorful Addison Mizner, and Addison's con man brother Wilson. The first was the uncompleted The Last Resorts (1952); a manuscript of Act I is in the Library of Congress. Wise Guy (1956) was completed but never produced, although songs have been published and recorded on The Unsung Irving Berlin (1995). 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.
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. Biographer David Leopold adds that "We all know his songs... they are all part of who we are."
It quickly became a 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. In 1954, Berlin received a special Congressional Gold Medal from President Dwight D. Eisenhower for contributing the song.
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. Leonard Cohen included a cover of this song on his 1992 release The Future (Leonard Cohen album).
Rudy Vallée 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. Furia notes that when Vallée first introduced the song on his radio show, the "song not only became an overnight hit, it saved Vallée's marriage: The Vallées had planned to get a divorce, but after Vallée sang Berlin's romantic lyrics on the air, "both he and his wife dissolved in tears" and decided to stay together.
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, Elizabeth Irving Peters and Linda Louise Emmet.
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," 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." Composer Douglas Moore added:
Berlin died in his sleep at his 17 Beekman Place town house in Manhattan on September 22, 1989, of heart attack and natural causes at the age of 101. He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.
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." During his career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs and was a legend by the time he turned 30. He went on to write the scores for 20 original Broadway shows and 15 original 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." Others, such as Broadway musician Anne Phillips, says simply that "the man is an American institution."
Irving married Dorothy Goetz, whose brother was songwriter E. Ray Goetz, in February 1912. She died of typhoid fever six months after their wedding. Irving later married heiress Ellin MacKay on January 4, 1926, with whom he fathered four children.
Currently, Irving Berlin is 134 years, 10 months and 21 days old. Irving Berlin will celebrate 135th birthday on a Thursday 11th of May 2023. Below we countdown to Irving Berlin upcoming birthday.
Happy Birthday, Irving Berlin | OUPblog
To commemorate the birthday of the great American songwriter, Irving Berlin, we spoke with Jeffrey Magee, author of Irving Berlin’s American Musical Theater.