- Berlin, Irving
- (1888-1989)Born Israel Isidore Baline in Russia, Berlin’s family moved to the United States in 1893 and settled in New York’s Lower East Side. He was forced to work from an early age and did a variety of casual jobs, including being a singing waiter. However, Berlin began writing songs. His first published song in 1907 included a misprint of his name, which he then changed to Irving Berlin. From 1908 to 1911 he mainly wrote lyrics for other people’s music, but in 1911 he achieved his first major success with “Alexander’s Rag-time Band.” Berlin entered the army during World War I and staged the revue Yip Yip Yaphank. Following the war he wrote for the Ziegfeld Follies before establishing his own theater, The Music Box. After moderate success, he went through a fairly unproductive period from 1927 to 1932, although one of his hit songs was “Blue Skies” performed by Al Jolson in the movie The Jazz Singer (1927). He began to write hit songs again with Rudy Vallee’s “How Deep Is the Ocean” (1932) and then had a string of hits with the Broadway revue As Thousands Cheer (1933), including the songs “Easter Parade,” “Harlem on My Mind,” and “Heat Wave.” He also wrote the music for the movie Top Hat (1935), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and won an Oscar for the song “Cheek to Cheek.”Berlin’s film success continued during the war with Holiday Inn, featuring Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”—the song that became the most played Christmas song—and the reprise of Yip Yip Yaphank retitled This is the Army (1943) based on the revue that had first been staged in 1942. It now included “God Bless America,” a song first performed by Katie Smith in 1938, which was so popular during the war it almost became the nation’s anthem. His contribution to the nation was recognized by President Harry S. Truman with the award of the Medal of Merit in 1945.Berlin was a huge success after the war with one of his greatest musicals, Annie Get Your Gun (1946), produced by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, including the songs “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do.” The musical was made into a film in 1950. The movie Easter Parade appeared in 1948. However, Berlin’s subsequent productions, Miss Liberty (1949) and Mr. President (1962), were regarded as flops, and he largely retired thereafter. He did, however, write “I Like Ike,” the campaign song for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Berlin is remembered as one of greatest songwriters.See also Cinema; Literature and theater.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.