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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 1

Every year, 25 recordings are added to the LOC’s National Recording registry, recordings that are considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” The purpose of this blog is not to list all 25 of them, but to highlight those where the song is part of the NLS Music collection. Most of these items may be downloaded […]

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 […]

An Interview with Stephanie Pieck, Part 2

This is the second part of my interview with Stephanie Pieck. Q) Explaining your teaching philosophy, you wrote, “I faced many instances in which the general opinion was that a blind person couldn’t learn. But I also had many very dedicated teachers who knew this wasn’t true; all that was needed was a different way to […]

An Interview with Stephanie Pieck, Part 1

I am excited to share my interview with Stephanie Pieck, a pianist, teacher, and an NLS patron. Stephanie received her bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Ithaca College and maintains a private music studio in New York. Q) How old were you when you started playing the piano? What motivated you to start playing? A) […]

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 […]

Newest BARD Additions

Since we are on a roll talking about BARD, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the new (or newly digitized) titles that we’ve uploaded to BARD over the past few weeks. Talking Books Uncle Dave Macon (DBM03766) This is a look at “Uncle Dave” Macon (also known as “The Dixie Dewdrop) and […]

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 […]

What A Great Service!

I heard these words a lot this past weekend. That’s because the NLS Music Section made its way to the NAfME (National Association for Music Education) conference in Grapevine, TX. While there, I was able to promote our service to music teachers from all over the country—and some future music teachers too! The refrain I kept […]