My newest book, Write On, Irving Berlin! is out on May 15, just in time for Berlin’s 130th birthday (on May 11) and for the 100th birthday of his iconic song, “God Bless America.” The patriotic blockbuster was written in 1918, in the height of World War I. Then Berlin decided there were already too many similar songs out there, and he put it away in a drawer. In 1938, in the run-up to World War II, he took it out again, brushed up some of the lyrics, and published it, with Kate Smith famously recording her rousing version. So Happy Birthday to the song, the man, and the book!
Berlin was a fascinating person, the composer and lyricist of well over a thousand hits—who could barely play the piano himself. A Jewish immigrant, whose family fled the pogroms of Russia arrived in America penniless, he would go on to write two of the greatest musical hits of American music ever: “God Bless America” and “White Christmas.” There were some who took issue at a Jewish immigrant having written them, but happily, those voices were drowned out. Berlin was so grateful to his adopted country that he donated all the proceeds from “God Bless America” to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, a move that benefitted them to the tune (pun intended!) of millions of dollars.
Berlin was a prolific writer, working constantly, quickly, anywhere, and at all hours of the night. Legend has it that he wrote “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” for Annie, Get Your Gun, in 15 minutes in the backseat of a cab! What’s your favorite Berlin tune?