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.