Irving Berlin (1888-1989)

Irving Berlin

Composer and lyricist, The Cocoanuts

Born Israel Isidore Beilin in Russia, Berlin fled the pogroms with his family and settled in New York City in 1893. During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows (including The Cocoanuts, Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam and White Christmas) and 18 Hollywood films (including for the above plays as well as Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Easter Parade and There’s No Business Like Show Business). Berlin wrote simple and direct songs, aimed at the average American. Many were patriotic. His Broadway musical and 1942 film This Is the Army, with Ronald Reagan, featured Kate Smith singing Berlin’s “God Bless America.” His songs have reached the top of the charts 25 times and have been extensively re-recorded by many singers. He won numerous awards, including Grammys, Tonys, Oscars and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history, and songwriter Jerome Kern observed of him, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.”