Legendary New York songwriter Irving Berlin was born, Israel Baline in Mogilev, Belarus on May 11, 1888. He moved to the United States with his family when he was 5 years old to escape brutal anti-Jewish attacks after the assassination of Russian Czar Alexander II.
New York Songwriter Irving Berlin is Born – May 11, 1888
Berlin and his family arrived in New York City 1893 and settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As a young boy, Berlin’s first exposure to music was when he sang in his local synagogue with his father, a cantor who led the congregation in prayer along with the rabbi in the synagogue when the family lived in Russia. After dropping out of school at age 8, Berlin sold newspapers on the street, and found that when he sang, people gave him money in appreciation of his talent.
When his father died, Berlin left home to ease the financial burden of another mouth to feed on his family. To make money, he began singing to customers in saloons, and soon found work as a singing waiter at The Pelham Café in the heart of Chinatown. Berlin’s big break in the music business came when he was hired as a staff lyricist with the music publishing company Waterman & Snyder. Although he never learned how to read and write music, with the help of a special transcribing keyboard, Berlin composed dozens of popular songs at Water & Snyder.
Although his first published tune was “Marie from Sunny Italy,” written in 1907, Berlin’s first major success was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” In 1919 Berlin founded the Irving Berlin Music Corporation, and went on to write over 1,500 songs and score dozens of musicals and films. Some of his most famous songs are “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” Irving Berlin was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, eventually winning one for “White Christmas.”
Berlin retired in 1962 after the production of the Broadway play Mr. President, and spent the remainder of his life in New York City where he lived until the age of 101.
Irving Berlin is celebrated as one of the most popular songwriters in the United States, and his music has been covered by hundreds of artist including Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Diana Ross, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald.