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An American Classic: Irving Berlin

We’ve discussed show-tunes, Broadway, and the Great American Songbook on the blog before, but we have yet to talk about perhaps one of the most influential composers of American standards: Irving Berlin, who happens to celebrate his 129th birthday today. Along with penning a few Broadway scores, including the score for Annie Get Your Gun, he has written numerous songs for Tin Pan Alley, movies (such as the iconic “White Christmas”), and revue shows.

Berlin (born Israel Baline), along with his family, emigrated from imperial Russia to the United States in 1893. The Balines eventually settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where many other immigrant families were living at the time. Berlin worked odd jobs around town, and eventually became an itinerant singer around the saloons on the Bowery, making a few cents here and there. Eventually, after singing and playing piano around different restaurants and saloons, he was noticed by the Harry Von Tilzer company, and then later by the Ted Snyder Company – two large music publishers of Tin Pan Alley and Vaudeville tunes.

A Photograph of Irving Berlin from 1941. Public Domain.

A Photograph of Irving Berlin from 1941. Public Domain.

When he was only 23 years old, Berlin had delivered his first big hit song “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” It was a hit song for Berlin, and soon Irving Berlin became a well-known name on Vaudeville circuits. His career is well-known from that point, with many of his songs being used in revue and Vaudeville shows. During that time he penned such songs as “Watch Your Step,” “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” and “When I Lost You.” He also wrote patriotic songs to inspire the troops and bolster the support of the home front during World War I. Perhaps his most famous tune from this time is “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” – later featured in the movie “This is the Army” with Berlin himself singing it!

Mr. Berlin continued to write songs including his most well-known, “God Bless America.” Here are just a few of the songs we have by him in the NLS music collection:

Audio – Appreciation

The Bard of Tin Pan Alley (DBM00945)
They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore (DBM00342)
Tribute to Mr. America (DBM01011)
Memory Bank (DBM01076)
Sing Me some Simple Songs (DBM00617)
Great American Music: Broadway Musicals (DBM02875)

 

Audio – Instructional

White Christmas – Alto Sax (DBM02795)
White Christmas – Guitar (DBM02240)
White Christmas – Flute (DBM03265)
White Christmas – Piano (DBM03753)
God Bless America – Piano (DBM03723)

Braille

God Bless America [piano/vocal] (BRM24011)
White Christmas [piano/vocal] (BRM24890)
God Bless America [piano/vocal] (BRM28365)
Marie [piano/vocal] (BRM21780)
Always [piano/vocal] (BRM33681)
Irving Berlin Anthology [voice/melody/chords], vol. 1, vol. 2., vol. 3 (BRM36211)

We also have selected titles by Irving Berlin in Large Print. Please contact the music section for more information.

Over the Rainbow, and More: Part 2

This is a continuation of my survey of songs recently added to the LOC’s National Recording Registry, indicating where they may be found in the NLS music collection. (Note that Over the Rainbow was covered in last week’s blog.) Puttin’ on the Ritz Harry Richmond’s 1929 recording of this Irving Berlin song was added to […]

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“Children must receive musical instruction naturally as food, and with as much pleasure as they derive from a ball game.” -Leonard Bernstein Today, we celebrate the birthday of Leonard Bernstein, one of the greatest American musicians of the twentieth century. Many of us know him as the celebrated conductor of the New York Philharmonic, the […]

George M!

“Over there! Over there!” “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy…” “You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high flying flag!” Do these songs seem familiar to you? Did you know that they were all written by the same composer, George M. Cohan? George M. Cohan (he’s usually referred to by his full name, middle initial and […]