Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin (1888-1989)
    The American songwriter Irving Berlin helped define the modern American popular song. During his long career he wrote some 1,500 songs. Many—"Always," "Blue Skies," "Puttin' on the Ritz," and countless others—have become classics, recorded again and again by new generations of singers.
    Berlin was born Israel Baline in Tyumen, Russia, on May 11, 1888, the youngest of eight children. He moved with his family to New York City at the age of 5. He had barely begun school when his father died, and he sold newspapers and sang in the streets to help support his family. He learned to play piano by ear and began to compose melodies by trial and error. He became Irving Berlin when his first song was mistakenly credited to "I. Ber­lin," and he decided to change his first name as well.
    In 1909, Berlin got a job writing lyrics for a music publisher; he became world famous two years later for writing "Alexander's Ragtime Band," which sold more than one million copies of sheet music. Berlin formed his own music company in 1919. During the 1920's the composer developed his unerring touch for ballads. In 1935 he wrote Top Hat, the first of many film scores. In 1939 he composed "God Bless America," which became one of the country's best-loved patriotic songs.
    Among Berlin's greatest successes was the song "White Christmas," which won an Academy Award in 1942 and became a mod­ern Christmas carol. He also wrote hit Broadway musicals, notably Annie Get Your Gun (1946), with its rousing showstopper, "There's No Business Like Show Business."
    Berlin's last major work was the Broadway show Mr. President (1962). He died in New York City on September 22, 1989, at 101 years of age.