Irving Berlin

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Irving Berlin (1948)

Irving Berlin , actually Israel Isidore Beilin or Baline , another pseudonym (.) Ren G. May , (* April 29 jul. / 11. May  1888 greg. In the Russian Empire ; †  22. September 1989 in New York City ) was a American composer and lyricist.


The birthplace of Berlin is unknown, although his Jewish family lived in Talachyn ( Mogilev Gouvernement ), a city ​​in what is now Belarus , until they emigrated . Berlin itself gave as his birthplace a small Siberian town called Temun, which was sometimes identified as the city of Tyumen . As a result of the anti-Semitic pogroms in the Russian Empire in the 1880s, Berlin's parents and their seven children emigrated to the United States in 1891. (See also The Polish Jews in the Russian Empire (1795–1918) and the Pale of Settlement .)

After the early death of their father, a cantor , the children had to earn their own living. Irving was taken out of school and made his first living as a newspaper and delivery boy. At 14 he ran away from home and worked as a "singing waiter" in a New York café. Berlin taught itself a little to play the piano . Since he played by ear, he only used the black keys for the sake of simplicity; he played almost exclusively in the key of F sharp.

He achieved world fame with the song Alexander's Ragtime Band . The former street boy was well on his way to becoming a well-known composer , even though he could neither read notes nor play the piano properly. He composed his melodies, others wrote down the notes for him. The orchestration was then carried out by trained arrangers .

Because he limited himself almost exclusively to the black keys of the piano, but also wanted to compose in all other keys , he bought a piano in 1910, which he could transpose into other keys using a crank wheel by shifting the mechanism relative to the strings .

Berlin's grave in New York City

On May 12, 1910, he was at Munn Lodge No. Initiated as a Freemason in New York City in 190 , promoted to journeyman on May 26, and promoted to master on June 3. On December 12, 1935, he became a lifelong member. He received the 32nd  degree of the AASR ( New Jersey ) on December 23, 1910. In the Mecca Shrine Temple he was initiated on January 30, 1911 and there in December 1936 a lifelong member. Around 1912 he wrote a song with a Masonic reference in collaboration with E. Ray Goetz: "Hiram's Band".

In 1920 he opened his own theater with the Music Box and finally devoted himself to work for the sound film. With the hit " White Christmas " from the Bing Crosby film Holiday Inn , which was widely distributed in millions of records , he achieved a particularly successful result. Before the Second World War , his song " God Bless America ", performed by Kate Smith , became an unofficial anthem in the United States. Berlin achieved its greatest success in 1946 with the musical Annie Get Your Gun about the American art writer Annie Oakley . Irving Berlin is the author of numerous melodies that are still considered jazz standards today.

Irving Berlin died on September 22, 1989 at the age of 101 of complications from a heart attack .

Works (selection)


Irving Berlin was primarily a songwriter ; he wrote more than 1000 songs.

Broadway Shows - Musicals and Musical Revues

This is followed by shows whose music was written exclusively by Berlin.

  • 1910: Ziegfeld Follies
  • 1914: Watch Your Step
  • 1915: stop! Look! Lists!
  • 1918: Yip Yap Yaphank
  • 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1924: Music Box Revue
  • 1925: The Cocoanuts , film adaptation 1929
  • 1927: Ziegfeld Follies
  • 1932: Face The Music
  • 1933: As Thousands Cheer
  • 1940: Louisiana Purchase , screened in 1941
  • 1942: This Is the Army , film adaptation 1943
  • 1946: Annie Get Your Gun , film adaptation 1950
  • 1949: Miss Liberty
  • 1950: Call Me Madam , film adaptation 1953
  • 1962: Mr. President .

Film work

In most cases, a portfolio of Berlin songs forms the basis for the following film musicals, music or dance films, of which only in exceptional cases were written as a whole as film music.



  • Jeffrey Magee: Irving Berlin's American musical theater , New York, NY [u. a.]: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-19-539826-7
  • James Kaplan: Irving Berlin: New York genius , New Haven: Yale University Press, [2019], ISBN 978-0-300-18048-0

Web links

Commons : Irving Berlin  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Irving Berlin Music Company: Irving Berlin Biography
  2. Philip Furia (Ed.): American song lyricists, 1920-1960 . Gale, Detroit 2002, ISBN 0-7876-6009-4 , p. 23.
  3. a b Cecil Adams: If Irving Berlin couldn't read or write music, how did he compose? July 28, 2006, accessed February 28, 2021 .
  4. ^ Irving Berlin piano spotlighted at the National Museum of American Jewish History . ( [accessed February 28, 2021]).
  5. ^ Weser Bros. Transposing Upright Piano. Retrieved February 28, 2021 .
  6. Jürgen Holtorf: Die Logen der Freemaurer, Nikol Verlags GmbH, Hamburg, p. 140, ISBN 3-930656-58-2