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Irving Berlin

Russian Born 11 May 1888 Died 22 Sep 1989

As Jerome Kern once said, 'Irving Berlin has no place in American music; he is American music'. In his 54-year career , Berlin showed a remarkable ability to adapt to the latest trends in popular music. From Broadway to Hollywood, he penned some of the most popular of tunes including White Christmas and God Bless America.

Born in Mogilyov, Russia on 11 May 1888 as Israel Baline,  Berlin was taken to America at the age of 5. Following the death of his father when Berlin was just 13, the young musician left home rather than be a burden to his mother. He survived using his talents as a chorus boy, a song plugger, a singing waiter and a vaudeville stooge. Although he had no formal musical training, Berlin taught himself to play the piano and was soon composing both music and lyrics as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter.

With more popular hits than any other composer, the young Berlin broke into Broadway with his first complete stage work Watch your Step (1914), which went a long way toward popularising ragtime. He wrote all or most of the songs for a further 19 Broadway shows, the most successful of which was Annie Get your Gun (1945).

For a man of his talents, the bright lights of Hollywood beckoned and Berlin bought in at the ground floor, becoming part of film history when his song Blue Skies was used in the first talking picture The Jazz Singer in 1927. He moved to California in the mid-1930s, scoring film musicals for various studios, the most famous of which were the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicles for RKO, including the incomparable Top Hat  (1935). Many of Berlin's other songs were also incorporated into film musicals like Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), White Christmas (1954) and There's No Business Like Show Business (1954).

Having dabbled in ragtime, the dance crazes of the 20s, swing, and contributed to some of Hollywood's most beloved musicals, Irving Berlin died in New York on 22 September 1989. As the world's greatest popular songwriter, his music lives on; White Christmas, for example, is still the single best-selling song of all time.

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