On This Day

Irving Berlin

Composer and Lyricist Irving Berlin

Full Name: Israel Beilin
Profession: Composer and Lyricist

Biography: Of Belarusian-Jewish origin, Irving Berlin emigrated to America as a child and began his musical career as a singer newsboy and singing waiter. He is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history for hits such as "Alexander's Ragtime Band"; "Always"; "God Bless America", "White Christmas", and "There's No Business Like Show Business".

He had his first song published before he was 20, and a spelling error on the sheet music gave him his famous name. "Alexander's Ragtime Band", written in 1911 became an international hit and was successfully covered by a variety of artists for 50 years.

His first marriage, in 1920, ended tragically when his bride, Dorothy Gietz, contracted typhoid fever during their Havana honeymoon, dying shortly thereafter. Despite his professional success, the family of his second wife distrusted him. He wrote "Always" as a wedding gift to her, assigning her all of the royalties. They remained married for 52 years, until her death.
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"God Bless America" was written while Berlin was serving in the army in 1918, but set aside for twenty years. When popular radio singing star Kate Smith was looking for a patriotic song for an Armistice Day special, he dusted it off. It became her signature song. Berlin had assigned the royalties to the Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations, providing them with millions of dollars over the years.

In the 1942 film "Holiday Inn", Bing Crosby introduced "White Christmas". It remains the biggest selling single of all-time, and earned Berlin an Academy Award.

"There's No Business Like Show Business" was a late addition to the 1946 Broadway musical "Annie Get Your Gun", and became Ethel Merman's trademark tune.

Born: May 11, 1888
Birthplace: Talachyn, Belarus, Russian Empire

Generation: Lost Generation
Star Sign: Taurus

Died: September 22, 1989 (aged 101)
Cause of Death: Natural causes

Married Life

  • 1926-01-04 American songwriter Irving Berlin (37) weds heiress and writer Ellin Mackay (23) in a simple civil ceremony

Historical Events

  • 1914-12-08 Irving Berlin's musical "Watch your Step" premieres in NYC
  • 1915-12-25 Irving Berlin & Harry B Smith's musical revue "Stop! Look! Listen!" premieres at the Globe Theater, NYC; runs for 105 performances
  • 1918-08-19 Irving Berlin's musical "Yip Yip Yaphank" premieres in NYC
  • 1921-09-22 Music Box Theater opens at 239 W 45th Street, NYC; Built by theatrical producer Sam H. Harris for Irving Berlin's musical revue "The Music Box", written specifically for the venue
  • 1932-02-17 Irving Berlin's musical "Face the Music" premieres in NYC
  • 1939-11-11 Kate Smith first sings Irving Berlin's "God Bless America"
  • 1940-05-28 Irving Berlin's musical "Louisiana Purchase" premieres in NYC
  • 1942-07-24 Irving Berlin's musical "This Is The Army" premieres in NYC
  • 1946-05-16 Irving Berlin, Dorothy and Herbert Fields' musical "Annie Get Your Gun" starring Ethel Merman and featuring "There's No Business Like Show Business" opens at Imperial Theater, NYC

Biographies and Sources