Irving Berlin was born in the poverty stricken town of Tyumen, Russia. He was born on May 11th, 1988 and his birth name was Israel Baline. He was the youngest of 9 children born to Moses and Leah (Lena) Baline. In 1893, escaping Russian persecution, the Baline’s fled to America and settled in the lower East side of New York. Baline’s father was a shochel for the Jewish synagogue in Russia and after arriving in New York he was forced to work in local markets. The Baline children had to work selling newspapers to help the family, like so many other immigrated families had to do. Shortly after his fathers death in 1896, Baline ran away from home. After leaving home, Baline earned money by singing at popular cafes and restaurants in the Bowery.
Baline was hired as a singing waiter at Pelham’s in 1906. There he met a co-worker by the name of “Nick” Nicholson. Pelham asked Nick to write a song and Baline to write the lyrics to outdo to employees at a rival café that had written and published a song. The two of them titled the song Marie of Sunny Italy. To introduce the song, Baline often sang the song while working. It quickly became popular with the customers in Pelham’s. Stern had decided to publish the song and when they read the cover they noticed a printing error that had changed Baline’s name to Irving Berlin. Not wanting to cause any more confusion than necessary, Baline stuck with the error and from that moment on was known to the world as Irving Berlin. To have had no formal musical education in his life, his musical career was becoming successful. He earned thirty-seven cents in royalties for the song Marie of Sunny Italy. In 1908, Berlin accidentally wrote a melody for a potental song, which was later called Dorando. Berlin was offered 25 dollars for a completed copy of the song. Since he did not know how to write or play music, he hired an arranger to compose to melody for the lyrics. Using the same arranger he had hired, he also completed the song The Best of Friends Must Part. Berlins lyrics were becoming so famous that the New York Journal hired him to write some verses. He wrote the lyrics to many of Americas most patriotic songs. One which was dedicated as our country national anthem, God Bless America.
Berlin’s music was starting to boom and his life was now something different from what he had known as a child, Berlin had money and lots of it. Though he had money and fame something was missing from his life that he wasn’t aware was missing, love. A young woman by the name of Dorthy Goetz had come to his office one day begging for a copy of any one of Berlins songs for her to sing. Before Goetz could get all the words out of her mouth, another woman came into Berlins office begging for a song as well. Goetz was a quiet and shy woman but after seeing the desperate woman pleading for a song that all changed. Afraid that she wouldn’t get the copy she so desperately wanted, she grabbed the other woman by the hair and they began to fight. Shocked by what was happening in his office, Berlin attempted to break up the two young women but was unsuccessful. When the fighting finally ended, he gave the copy to the other woman and asked Dorthy out on a date. After what was a short courtship, the two got married in February, 1913. The spent their honeymoon in Cuba which would later yield a terrible mistake. At the time of their honeymoon, a horrible case of typhoid had spread throughout Cube. Immediately after returning from the honeymoon, Dorthy became ill. Deep in love with his new bride, Berlin tried desperately to get his wife better. He had 2 full time doctors in the home caring for Dorthy; however, in a time when antibiotics didn’t exist there was nothing they could do to save her. Dorthy passed away in July of 1913. Berlin feel into a deep depression. While he was mourning the lose of his wife, he wrote one of his biggest hits When I Lost You. Berlin would wait many years before we would marry again, twelve to be exact. In 1926 Berlin married Ellin Mackay, the daughter of Postal Telegraph Company CEO, Clarence Mackay. Ellins father contested the marriage which was publicly announced often. Despite his disapproval the two secretly married. They had 4 children throughout their marriage, Irving Jr., Linda Louise, Mary Ellin and Elizabeth Iris.
Berlins fame soared with his first complete score Watch Your Step, in 1914. During WW II, he felt that it was important to show first hand the lives of the soldiers so he wrote This is the Army. The show raised $10 million and all of the proceeds went to the Army Emergency Relief fund. Following the war, Berlin wrote numerous songs for the American Red Cross. February 18, 1955, President Eisenhower presented Berlin with a gold medal for composing so many of Americas patriotic songs. Berlin also assigned the copyright for “God Bless America” to the God Bless America fund, which raises money for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts throughout America. In a biography published in 1924, songwriter Jerome Kern stated “ Irving Berlin had no place in American music. He is American music”. Irving Berlin died on September 22, 1989 at the age of 101.
Parlorsongs.com, Richard Reublin, Feb 2003
“As Thousands Cheer”, Laurence Bergreen