Irving Berlin

| April 19, 2015

November 2008

Irving-Berlin-Cabaret-Hall-of-Fame-Cabaret-Scenes-MagazineIf there ever was a person in the world of popular music who exemplified the American dream, it was Irving Berlin. Arriving on American shores with his Russian immigrant parents when he was four years old, and forced by the time he was ten years old to sell newspapers to help support his family after the death of his father, Berlin would become one of The Great American Songbook’s most significant and most prolific composers and lyricists. His career encompassed writing the music for 17 films and 21 Broadway musicals. He was, among many of his peers, an acknowledged first among equals. In an oft-quoted response to a question regarding Berlin’s place in American music, Jerome Kern replied, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is ‘American music.’”

From 1911 and Berlin’s chart-topping “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” followed in 1914 by his first Broadway show featuring the popular dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle, Watch Your Step, many of Berlin’s songs have become perennial favorites. His “Blue Skies” was sung by Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, the very first feature-length talking film in 1927. “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade” and “God Bless America” (at one time proposed as a new national anthem) are as much a part of the American songbook as “American the Beautiful” or the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Amazingly, Berlin never learned more than the rudiments of reading music or playing the piano. His specially-built piano that relied on a lever to change keys is legendary.

For almost half a century Broadway musicals and Hollywood films benefited from Berlin’s brilliance, and his songs were popularized by a legion of stars, including Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Ethel Merman, Ray Charles and Ginger Rogers. Bing Crosby’s recording of the Oscar-winning “White Christmas” may well hold the title of the best-selling record in history.

A fitting addition to our Cabaret Hall of Fame, Irving Berlin’s heritage includes his Broadway mega-hit, Annie Get Your Gun, and what might understandably be every performer’s theme song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” 

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Category: Hall of Fame

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