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Irving Berlin

Irving BerlinIRVING BERLIN (1888 – 1989) was born Israel Baline in Eastern Russia, one of eight children born to Leah and Moses Baline. His father was a shochet (one who kills kosher animals as prescribed by Jewish religious laws) who was also the cantor in the synagogue. His family moved to New York in 1893 to escape the pogroms in Russia. At the age of eight, he took to the streets of the Lower East Side of New York City to help support his mother and family after his father had died. In the early 1900s he worked as a singing waiter in many restaurants and started writing songs. His first published hit was Marie From Sunny Italy. His successes continued through two years.

Mr. Berlin was married for only a year to Dorothy Goetz, who died from typhoid contracted while on their honeymoon in Cuba in 1913. He married Ellin Mackay in 1926. She was the daughter of Clarence Mackay, president of Postal Telegraph Company, a leading Catholic layman who opposed the wedding. The Berlins had three daughters.

During World War I, Mr. Berlin wrote the musical Yip, Yip, Yaphank, which was produced by the men of Camp Upton. In this musical, the big hit song was Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, which reflected Mr. Berlin’s aversion to rising early. This musical raised more than $150,000 to build a service center at Camp Upton.

On Armistice Day, 1938, he introduced God Bless America, which was sung by Kate Smith. This song threatened to replace the national anthem because of its patriotism and popularity.

During World War II, he wrote the musical This Is the Army, which raised $10 million for the Army Emergency Relief. His hits in this musical were This Is the Army, Mr. Jones and I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen. He also wrote other patriotic songs, including Any Bonds Today?, Arms for the Love of America and Angels of Mercy for the American Red Cross.

Mr. Berlin was prolific: He wrote more than 900 songs, 19 musicals and the scores of 18 movies. Some of his songs that have become classics include There’s No Business Like Show Business, Easter Parade and White Christmas. He is the top moneymaker among songwriters in America. In 1924, songwriter Jerome Kern observed, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.”

Mr. Berlin supported Jewish charities and organizations and donated many dollars to worthwhile causes. The National Conference of Christians and Jews honored him in 1944 for “advancing the aims of the conference to eliminate religious and racial conflict.” Five years later, he was honored by the New York YMHA as one of “12 outstanding Americans of the Jewish faith.” On February 18, 1955, President Eisenhower presented Berlin with a gold medal in recognition of his services in composing many patriotic songs for the country. Earlier, Mr. Berlin assigned the copyright for God Bless America to the God Bless America Fund, which has raised millions of dollars for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Mr. Berlin’s World War I doughboy uniform and many of his original patriotic scores are on display in the Jewish War Veterans Museum in Washington, D.C.

Irving Berlin died on September 22, 1989, at the age of 101. He was a member of Congregation Emanu-El from 1940 until his death.

(Source: Jewish Virtual Library)


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