Irving Berlin wrote the music and lyrics for the most quintessentially American songs: “God Bless America” (1938), “Easter Parade” (1933), “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1936) and...
Irving Berlin wrote the music and lyrics for the most quintessentially American songs: “God Bless America” (1938), “Easter Parade” (1933), “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1936) and “White Christmas” (1942). But he was born into a poor cantor’s family in Siberia. When Russian Cossacks victimized the Jews, the family escaped to a new kind of poverty in America where all eight young children went to work.
Berlin became a singing waiter, taught himself piano, and published his first song in 1907. In 1909 he wrote a song in Yiddish dialect for Fanny Brice, who credits him with starting her comedic career, and in 1914 he wrote his first Broadway show. While a soldier in WWI he produced an all-military show in which he sang “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” (1918).
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1919) enjoyed international success, and from then on, with the exception of a slow period from 1929 until 1932, songs for stage and film tumbled out of him: “What’ll I Do” (1923), “Blue Skies” (1926), “Shaking the Blues Away” (1927), “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1930), “How Deep Is the Ocean” (1932), “Heat Wave” (1933), and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” (1942). Between 1935 and 1938 he scored three Astaire/Rogers musicals which produced “Cheek to Cheek,” “Isn’t It a Lovely Day,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” and “Change Partners”.
During WWII Berlin produced another all-soldier show, This Is the Army (1943), to raise relief money. He was decorated by Gen. George C. Marshall and by President Eisenhower for his patriotic efforts. Berlin also donated all of his royalties from “God Bless America” to the Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls.
He returned to Broadway with the popular Annie Get Your Gun (1946) and continued to write hits for Miss Liberty (1949), Call Me Madam (1950), and Mr. President (1962), his last show. In 1974 he donated his piano to the Smithsonian.