Born in Russia on May 11, 1888 as Israel Baline, he was the youngest of eight children. His family migrated to America in 1893 and settled in New York.
Exact birthplace is unknown
September 22, 1989 in New York, he died in his sleep
Irving Berlin was only 13 when he became a street singer; this was shortly after his father's death. His singing attracted the attention of local cafe owners, and places like Callahan's and Chinatown Cafe hired him to sing. Before long, Irving was plugging Harry von Tilzer's songs at Tony Pastor's Music Hall. But it was in 1906, when Irving was working as a singing waiter in Pelham Café, that his career blossomed.
Pelham Cafe Years:
Collaborating with pianist Nick Nicholson, Irving wrote the lyrics to "Marie Of Sunny Italy." It was later published, but instead of the name Israel Baline, they erroneously printed Irving Berlin. This name was the one he would use from then on. Irving often sung "Marie Of Sunny Italy" at work and was also known to sing parodies of hit songs to the amusement of customers. At this time he was becoming known as a lyricist.
Although he could create melodies, Irving was known primarily as a lyricist. Some of his early songs include:
1908 - "Dorando" and "The Best of Friends Must Part"
1909 - "Sadie Salome, Go Home," "Next To Your Mother" and "Who Do You Love"
1910 - "Kiss Me, My Honey, Kiss Me"
It was in 1911 with his song "Alexander's Ragtime Band" that Irving became well-known. The song sold over a million copies and became a huge influence on American pop music. Irving continued to write songs in various genres: love songs, ballads, dance tunes, etc. Some of these songs are: "Always," "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," "Cheek to Cheek," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "White Christmas" and "How Deep Is The Ocean."
Other Notable Works:
"When I Lost You," (1912, written after he lost his first wife) "Oh! How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning," (1918, from the stage play Yip, Yip Yaphank
which featured soldiers as cast members) and "God Bless America" (received a Congressional Gold Medal).
Irving Berlin's talent carried over to Broadway as well, writing songs for plays like "Watch Your Step," (1914), "Annie Get Your Gun," "Louisiana Purchase," "As Thousands Cheer," "Face the Music," "Call Me Madam" and "Sayonara." His songs were also used on films, like the 1927 movie "Jazz Singer," "Top Hat" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band."
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Irving returned to Camp Upton, this time creating an all-soldier stage play called This is The Army. It opened on Broadway in 1942 and then in 1943 was made into a film starring, among others, Ronald Reagan. He received an Academy Award for his song "White Christmas" (1942), received the Army's Medal of Merit in 1945 and the Freedom Medal in 1977, among other accolades.
During the war, Irving joined the Army and was assigned to Camp Upton on Long Island. In 1921, he and producer Sam Harris built a theater called The Music Box. He also co-founded ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and contributed to several foundations and charitable groups. The royalties of his song "God Bless America" is said to go to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Irving married Ellin Mackay on January 4, 1926. He was inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
For more information on Irving Berlin's music, visit The Parlor Songs website.