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He was born Israel Isidore Baline in Tyumen, Russia on May 11, 1888. He became a renowned composer and lyricist in America. George Gershwin called him “the greatest songwriter who ever lived.” Jerome Kern said, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music.” A 2001 Time magazine article estimated Berlin has written around 1250 songs. 25 have reached #1 on the pop charts.
He wrote 17 complete scores for Broadway musicals and revues including Call Me Madam and Annie Get Your Gun. The latter is one of the top 1000 albums of all time, was rated best album of the year by the DMDB, and is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Berlin’s first notable hit was in 1911 with Alexander’s Ragtime Band. While covered many times, it was Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan’s version which garnered the most praise. It ranks in the DMDB’s top 1000 songs of all time and NPR ranked it one of the most Important American musical works of the 20th century.
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
“Ragtime” was also named to the Grammy Hall of Fame, as were “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (Earl Burtnett & His Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Orchestra with Harry Richman, 1930), “Cheek to Cheek” (Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers with Leo Reisman’s Orchestra, 1935), “Marie” (Tommy Dorsey, 1937), “God Bless America” (Kate Smith, 1939), and “White Christmas” (Bing Crosby with the Ken Darby Singers, 1942).
Cheek to Cheek
All Told, Berlin landed 15 songs in the DMDB’s top 1000 songs of all time. In addition to the above titles are “When I Lost You” (Henry Burr, 1913), “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” (Arthur Fields, 1918), “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” (John Steel, 1919), “What’ll I Do?” (Paul Whiteman, 1924), and “All Alone” (Al Jolson, 1925). Also rating in the elite 1000 list are “Blue Skies” (Ben Selvin, 1927), “How Deep Is the Ocean?” (Guy Lombardo with Carmen Lombardo, 1932), “Easter Parade” (Leo Reisman with Clifton Webb, 1933), and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” (Les Brown, 1948).
“Ragtime,” “All Alone,” and “White Christmas” all earned distinction as DMDB Songs of the Year. “Ragtime,” “Christmas,” and “Cheek to Cheek” rank amongst the the biggest #1 pop songs in U.S. chart history. “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Cheek,” and “Christmas” are all in the American Film Institute’s list 100 Years…100 Songs">. “God Bless America” and “Christmas” are also in the National Recording Registry.
God Bless America
Of course, no song is bigger than Berlin’s “White Christmas” as recorded by Bing Crosby. It doesn’t just rank as one of the top 100 best-selling songs in the world, but tops that list. Its 56 million in worldwide sales put it nearly 20 million ahead of its closest competition, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997.” The song went to #1 for 11 weeks in 1942 and then recharted eleven times over the next dozen years, even picking up three more weeks atop the charts. All told, it looged over 100 weeks on the pop charts over 20 Christmas seasons. Berlin , who was often insecure about his work, referred to the song not just as the best one he’d ever written, but the best anyone had ever written. LW Dave’s Music Database concurs, ranking it the #1 song of all time.
- one of the top 1000 music makers of all time
- top 100 music makers of the pre-rock era
- Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
- Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Songwriter Hall of Fame
Resources and Related Links:
- Irving Berlin’s DMDB Music Maker Encyclopedia entry
- “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” hit #1: September 16, 1911 (9/16/11)
- Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” hit #1: October 31, 1942 (10/31/11)
- LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 84.
- Wikipedia.org: List of Irving Berlin songs