Biography of Irving Berlin

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Israel Isidore Baline was born in the Russian village of Tyumen on May 11th, 1888. His family left in the mid 1890s to escape the persecution of the Jewish community and settled in New York City ( Israel dropped out of school at age thirteen (Kenrick 143). Baline was a street singer as a teen and in 1906 he got a job as a singing waiter in Chinatown ( The first song he ever had published was called “Marie From Sunny Italy” ( He wrote it in 1907 with Nick Nicholson writing the music. Baline’s name was misspelled on the sheet music as “I. Berlin” ( He decided to keep it and changed his name to Irving Berlin ( . It was in this way that the legend was born.
Not very long after changing his name Berlin became the co-owner of his own publishing firm (Kenrick 143). He decided to try composing his own music despite the fact that he couldn’t read musical notation and didn’t know much about the piano (143). He worked out his melodies by using only the black keys (143). He was musically illiterate and he couldn’t write the music he composed in his head (Horowitz 264). He would sing it to a musical secretary who would then write it down and play it back to him (264). He would help the secretary find the right harmonies and accompaniments until what he heard matched what was in his head (264). Most of his music sketches were typed out, either done by Berlin himself or one of his secretaries (264). The typed lyrics usually included annotations where he would cross out a word or write a replacement line over in the margins (264). Berlin reworked his songs many times before they were finished (264). He was also a list maker, like most lyricists are (264). His lyric sket...

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...96 revival of Annie Get Your Gun (267). Berlin stepped out of the public eye and managed his shows and songs until he died in 1989 (268). He was 101 years old. Jerome Kern said of him, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music; he is American music” (268).

Works Cited

Horowitz, Mark Eden. "The Craft Of Making Art: The Creative Processes Of Eight Musical Theatre Songwriters." Studies In Musical Theatre 7.2 (2013): 261-283.Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

Green, Stanley, and Cary Ginell. Broadway Musicals Show by Show. 7th. Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2011. Print. (Green and Ginell )

Kenrick, John. Musical Theatre A History. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008. Print.

"Irving Berlin." 2014. The Biography Channel website. Mar 29 2014, 05:06

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