Irving Berlin was the professional name of Isidore Baline (1888-1989), American composer of popular music, one of the most popular songwriters in United States history. He was born in Russia and moved to New York City with his family in 1893. His father, a cantor, died in 1896, and the young Berlin was forced to look for work to help provide for his impoverished family. At the age of eight he sold newspapers and became a street singer. With no formal musical training, Berlin took jobs as a singing waiter and began to compose music and write lyrics. His first published work appeared in 1907, when he wrote the lyrics for the song “Marie from Sunny Italy.” Despite his inability to read or write music, Berlin became a lyricist in the music-publishing business, and in 1909 he published more than 20 songs. He made his stage debut in 1910, performing his own songs in a vaudeville review, and in 1911 the publication of “Alexander's Ragtime Band” established his reputation as a songwriter. Berlin wrote for the Ziegfeld Follies (see Florenz Ziegfeld), and in 1919 he formed his own music-publishing business. In 1921 he became a partner in the construction of the Music Box Theater in New York, and he staged his own popular revues at the theater for several years.
Berlin wrote about 1500 songs and became one of the most successful songwriters in the United States. Whether for Broadway musicals or films, for humorous songs or romantic ballads, his compositions are celebrated for their appealing melodies and memorable lyrics. Berlin played and composed in an unconventional manner, using primarily the black keys of a piano fitted with a lever, which shifted the keyboard for automatic transposition. In 1973 he donated the upright piano to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Among the numerous musical comedies and revues for which Berlin wrote music and lyrics are Watch Your Step (1914), The Century Girl (1916, with Victor Herbert), Annie Get Your Gun (1946), Miss Liberty (1949), Call Me Madam (1950), and Mr. President (1962). In 1942 Berlin wrote and produced This Is the Army, using only military personnel. In 1955 U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented Berlin with a special medal authorized by the Congress of the United States for his patriotic songs. Berlin wrote music for the films Top Hat (1935), On the Avenue (1937), Blue Skies (1946), Easter Parade (1948), and others. Among his many popular songs are “Everybody's Doin' It,””There's No Business Like Show Business,””God Bless America,””White Christmas,” and “Easter Parade.” In 1968 Berlin received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
"Berlin, Irving," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004
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