Irving Berlin (May 11, 1888–September 22, 1989) was an American composer and lyricist.
Born Israel Isidore Baline, in Tyumen, Siberia (or Mahilyow (Mogilev), Belarus ?), he emigrated to the United States in 1893 with the rest of his family. Following the death of his father in 1896, Irving found himself having to work to survive. He did various street jobs including selling newspapers and busking. The harsh economic reality of having to work or starve was to have a lasting effect on the way Berlin treated money. In 1911 the song 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' launched a musical career that would span over a thousand songs including many hit Broadway musicals.
Irving Berlin's first credited song lyrics were for 'Marie from Sunny Italy' in 1907, the year he changed his name. He was paid 37 cents for this song.
In 1917 during World War I, while he staged a musical revue Yip Yip Yaphank while at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York. The revue was a patriotric tribute to the United States Army. Berlin composed the song 'God Bless America' for the revue but decided against using it. The revue was later included in the 1943 movie This Is the Army featuring other Berlin songs, including the famous title piece, as well as a full-length rendition of 'God Bless America' by Kate Smith.
He was responsible for many Hollywood film scores including Top Hat (1935) as well as songs such as 'White Christmas' from the film Holiday Inn (1942). Berlin was equally as prolific on Broadway, where he is perhaps best known for Annie Get Your Gun (1946), although he stopped writing after the failure of Mr President in 1962. Other well-known hits, include: Alexander's Ragtime Band, Always, Blue Skies, Change Partners, Cheek to Cheek, Easter Parade, God Bless America, Heat Wave, Hostess With the Mostest, How Deep Is the Ocean?, I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Let Yourself Go, Let's Face the Music and Dance, Marie; Oh, How I Hate to Get up in the Morning, (A)Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody, Puttin' on the Ritz, Say It Isn't So, Steppin' Out With My Baby, There's No Business Like Show Business; Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, and What'll I Do?
His friend and fellow songwriter Jule Styne said of him:
- 'It's easy to be clever. But the really clever thing is to be simple.' 1 (http://www.washtimes.com/commentary/20040610-091743-3433r.htm)
In spite of his musical career, Berlin never learned how to play a piano or read music beyond a rudimentary level. He owned a special piano that mechanically transposed keys and an assistant wrote out the music scores.
Becoming a virtual recluse in his last years, Berlin didn't attend the 100th birthday party held in his honor.
He was married twice. His first wife, singer Dorothy Goetz, sister of songwriter E. Ray Goetz, died of pneumonia and typhoid fever, contracted on their honeymoon to Cuba and five months after their wedding in 1912; she was only 20 years old. (Her death inspired Berlin's song 'When I Lost You', which became one of his earliest hits. Curiously, a year before Dorothy Berlin's death, Irving Berlin, E. Ray Goetz, and Ted Snyder cowrote a song called 'There's a Girl in Havana'.) His second wife was Ellin Mackay, a Catholic heiress to the Comstock Lode mining fortune as well as a writer who was published in 'The New Yorker'. They were married in 1936 and had three daughters – Mary Ellin, Linda, and Elizabeth, all of whom were raised Protestant – and a son, Irving Berlin, Jr., who died before his first birthday, on Christmas Day.
Irving Berlin died of a heart attack in New York City at the age of 101 and was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York. This biography is published under the GNU Licence