Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Irving Berlin Collection

Collection ID:
Berlin, Irving, 1888-1989
1905 - 1987
Physical Description:
3 Cubic feet
6 boxes and 10 oversize folders
Irving Berlin was a 20th century American composer and songwriter. This collection has sheet music for over 200 songs composed by Irving Berlin, as well as a sheet music by other composers. In addition to sheet music, there is correspondence, awards, photographs, and posters pertaining to Irving Berlin.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection consists primarily of sheet music for over 200 songs composed by Irving Berlin, as well as sheet music by others, published before 1925. Additionally, there are awards, photographs, correspondence and posters relating to Irving Berlin.
Series 1, Sheet Music by Irving Berlin, circa 1907-1966,and undated, contains sheet music from musicals and films written by Irving Berlin. These are alphabetized by song title.
Series 2, Miscellaneous Sheet Music, 1905-1925, contains a miscellaneous assortment of sheet music from the early 1900s by various composers and lyricists, including two pieces by Irving Berlin. The series is arranged alphabetical by song title. Key: (L) indicates "Lyrics", (W) indicates "Words" and (M) indicates "Music" after composer's name(s).
Series 3, Awards, 1938-1987 and undated, contains awards to Berlin from schools, cities and professional musicians' associations. The earliest in the collection is August 1938, the Box Office Ribbon Award for the best picture of the month, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." The latest one is an accolade by the United States Senate, duly noted in the Congressional Record of October 30, 1987. Series 4 contains correspondence related to the awards.
Series 4, Correspondence, Photographs, and Posters, 1916-1980s and undated, contains correspondence, photographs, and posters. Also included are many large copy prints of Irving Berlin paintings, almost all of which are portraits or still lifes. Some date from the 1970s and 1980s. Nearly all are either signed or initialed. Photographs include Irving Berlin and one of his pianos. A document folio contains photographs of a number of canceled envelopes and a composition manuscript, "I Am Just a Dreaming Fool." There are several posters relating to Irving Berlin musicals.

The collection is arranged into four series.
Series 1, Sheet Music by Irving Berlin, circa 1907-1966, and undated
Series 2, Miscellaneous Sheet Music, 1905-1925
Series 3, Awards, 1938-1987, and undated
Series 4, Correspondence, Photographs and Posters, 1916-1980s and undated

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Irving Berlin, composer of about 1,500 popular songs, a number of stage musicals and film scores, was born in Russia on May 11, 1888. Named Israel by his parents, Moses and Leah Baline, he fled to the United States with them in 1893. Upon arrival he adopted his American name, and the family settled on the lower east side of New York City. Irving attended public school there for two years, but dropped out to work and help support his family.
In 1907 while employed as a waiter in New York's Chinatown, Irving Berlin wrote his first song, "Marie from Southern Italy". A year later he was employed as a lyricist by a music publishing house and soon was a partner in the company, Waterson, Berlin and Snyder. In 1910 Irving Berlin wrote "My Wife's Gone to the Country" and "Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon". These launched his career as a world famous composer of popular songs and in 1911 "Alexander's Ragtime Band" was a sensational hit. It was this song, along with the others he made at this time, that many consider the advent of Modernism within the musical field.
During World War I, Irving Berlin was stationed at Camp Upton, Long Island, where he wrote patriotic songs, including an all-soldier musical revue and the song "God Bless America" (this was not released until twenty years later). After the war he established his own music publishing company in New York City, Irving Berlin Inc. In 1921 he partnered with Sam Harris and and built the Music Box Theater.
Irving Berlin was married twice. The first marriage in 1912 was to Dorothy Goetz, who died shortly afterward. In 1926 he married Ellin Mackay, the daughter of C. H. Mackay, chairman of the board of Postal Telegraph Cable Company. They had four children: Mary Ellin Barret, Elizabeth Irving Peters, Linda Louise Emmet, and little Irving, who died in infancy.
During World War II, Mr. Berlin toured the United States and the European and Pacific battle zones. Proceeds from these appearances were assigned to the Army Emergency Relief and other service agencies. He was the recipient of the Medal of Merit, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the President's Medal of Freedom and was a member of the Legion of Honor of France.
After the war, Berlin continued to write songs, scores, and musicals. It was during these decades that the score for the movie "White Christmas" and the play "Annie Get Your Gun" were produced. He took up painting as a hobby later in life. He died on September 22, 1989 at the age of 101. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetary, the Bronx, New York City.

Grace Angle
Processing Information
Originally processed by Grace Angle (volunteer), January, 1989. Revised and updated by Dexter Hobbs (intern), October, 2010; supervised by Alison Oswald, archivist.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated to National Museum of American History (formerly the the Museum of History and Technology) by Irving Berlin on March 27, 1975.
Custodial History
Collection transferred to the Archives Center by the Division of Musical History (now Division of Cultural and Community Life) on March 23, 1988.

Digital Content
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Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Irving Berlin Collection, 1905-1987, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research use.

Related Materials
Material in the Archives Center
Sam DeVincent Illustrated Sheet Music Collection
Groucho Marx Collection
Material in Other Institutions
Library of Congress
University of New Hampshire, Milne Special Collections

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Photographs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Popular music -- 20th century -- United States Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Awards Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Composers -- 20th century Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Paintings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sheet music Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Posters -- 1940-1960 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Portraits -- 1900-1950 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012