{ subscribe_url:'/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/nls-music-notes.php' }

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.

Ganne, Alford, Holst, and Others: Music of World War I

This April marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I. The Library of Congress is commemorating that significant anniversary with exhibits, publications, and other various activities. As part of this commemoration, the NLS Music Section was asked to provide braille music for blind visitors. While going through the collection, we […]

Liessens Music Writer, Part 1

A few weeks ago, I read a discussion on a listserv about different ways for blind musicians to notate and print music. There were many helpful suggestions, mostly on music notational software.  As the discussion participants noted, these software can be costly and require tech savvy to use. This post is about a music notation […]

Celebrating Black Composers

In honor of Black History Month, this blog post will highlight materials in the music section that are written by or about African American composers. These composers wrote in many styles, including popular, Western classical, jazz, gospel, and more. Here is some music by three Black composers that we have available in our collection. Harry […]

A Miniaturist and More

For many music lovers, the end of January brings to mind two birthdays: Mozart’s on the 27th, and Schubert’s on the 31st. Could a composer born between these two giants, end up being overlooked? Perhaps. It was while preparing my blog about the Viking Opera Guide (BRM29585) that I learned that the 29th of January […]

A Four Hour Concert in an Unheated Hall

On this day, over two hundred years ago, a historic concert took place. It was in Vienna, in the middle of the Advent season, and Beethoven needed some money. “But, Beethoven,” you would say, “surely he was doing fine! He is Beethoven! Everyone loves him!” However, in Vienna in 1808, just because everyone loved you […]

Never Too Late!

Forty-three years ago patron Dianne Phelps earned her Music Education degree at Eastern New Mexico University. She faced difficult challenges with her partial vision at the time and struggled with some of the faculty, reluctant to award her a degree. Thankfully, she prevailed. Afterwards, she had a keyboard and was frustrated as she was not […]

More Than Bossa Nova (But We Have That Too)!

Tomorrow’s opening ceremony kicks off the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A tradition for 120 years, this is the first time that the event will be held in a South American country. In celebration of this historic event, and as a representation of just how international the NLS Music Section is, this blog […]

Musical Paintings

This blog is being submitted during one of my favorite times of year…VACATION . It is summer time and I’ve already enjoyed a beach trip to our National Seashore, Assatague Island and Chincoteague. I enjoy every vacation, but this one was loaded with the sound of waves crashing on the shore, laughing children and parents, sunny and […]

Score Writing: Humor and Wit

A few weeks ago, I pulled a little book from the Music Section’s reference collection, An Introduction to Music Publishing: A Tour Through the Music Publishing Operations Involved in Transforming the Composer’s Manuscript Into a Printed Publication and Its Dissemination to the Student and the Performer. The front cover of this book features Beethoven as […]