Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Irving Berlin -- Learning About a Legend

Many people might define success as being remembered long after leaving this world; in effect, becoming a legend. Over the course of his 60-year career, iconic songwriter Irving Berlin wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films. He's clearly a beloved author in the Great American Songbook.

BerlinPortrait1.jpg
Berlin in 1941

I love learning new things. The SAGE Series, part of McNeese State University's non-credit Leisure Learning Program, schedules informal classes on a myriad of fascinating topics. Obviously I had heard of Irving Berlin, but I didn't know much about his life until I recently attended one of these classes.

Performed at the University's Tritico Theatre, two theater majors narrated the show, imparting interesting tidbits of his life, while five voice majors sang a selection of some of his most well-known songs.

Israel Isidore Baline was born on May 11, 1888 to Russian Jewish parents who escaped the pogroms and immigrated to the United States when Israel was still a young boy. (He later changed his name to Irving Berlin.) As a kid, he sold newspapers on a street corner and discovered he could sell more papers and earn tips if he also sang songs. He soon realized he had a knack for song writing.

His first hit was Alexander's Ragtime Band.

(Youtube is great but I dislike the ads, especially when you can't stop them early!)


Berlin was a versatile song writer. He wrote love songs. For example, he wrote his first ballad, "When I Lost You," after his first wife died of typhoid fever soon after their honeymoon. He wrote "Always" for his second wife, Ellin Mackay, after her wealthy father disowned her because she eloped with Berlin. Berlin gave the song rights to her so she would "always" be taken care of.


Berlin loved theater and wrote scores for musicals. His most famous was Annie Get Your Gun, starring Ethel Merman.


He wrote holiday songs that continue to be favorites to this day. What is the Christmas season without Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas."


He was a soldier in World War I and wrote several marches, military, and patriotic songs. I did not realize Irving Berlin wrote "God Bless America."


It was a pleasure to learn about this legendary American songwriter's life.

What is your favorite Irving Berlin song or musical?

1 comment:

Mark Kelley said...

Fave Irving Berlin Song - Oh, Ella and Louis singing "Cheek to Cheek", no doubt about it!
https://youtu.be/GeisCvjwBMo