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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin was born in Belarus on May 11, 1888. His father was a Jewish cantor who moved his family to New York to escape religious persecution in 1893.

Berlin's big break came in 1906 when he was hired as a singing waiter at the Pelham Café in New York's Chinatown. It was here that he caught the eye of Harry Von Tilzer, who hired him to sing his songs at Tony Pastor's Music Hall, considered by many to be the birthplace of vaudeville. He had his first song published the following year.

Berlin at his first job with a music publisher, age 18

"Alexander's Ragtime Band" attracted more publicity than any other song of the 1910s, selling a million copies of the sheet music in the first year. Over half a million copies of the sheet music were reputed to have been sold in England in 1913.

Berlin bought his mother a house out of the royalties for "Alexander's Ragtime Band".

Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" for the 1942 film Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby recorded it on May 29, 1942 and it became not only the crooner's signature song, but also the most performed and best-selling Christmas song in history. 
Berlin foresaw its success when he wrote it, telling his secretary, "I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!"

Wikipedia commons

Amongst the musicals he penned were Top Hat (1935), Annie Get Your Gun (1946), and Call Me Madam (1950).

Berlin was instrumental in the development of the popular song, taking it from jazz and ragtime to swing and romantic ballads.

He never learned to read music or to write it. Berlin hummed or sung his songs to a secretary, who took them down in musical notation.

Berlin only played on the set of black keys. He had a special piano built with pedals that could change the set from F sharp into other keys.

Taco's 1983 cover of "Puttin' On The Ritz" reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It made 95-year-old Irvin Berlin the oldest living songwriter ever with a single in the top 10.

He died in his sleep at his Manhattan home on September 22 1989 at the age of 101.

Here are some more details from Songfacts on songs written by Berlin.

Sources Artistfacts, Hutchinson Encylopedia © RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

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