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May 11 composer birthday: legendary song master Irving Berlin

May 11 composer birthday: legendary song master Irving Berlin featured image

Irving Berlin’s list of songs that made the charts is, well, off the charts. A few examples:
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
“Easter Parade”
“White Christmas”
“Happy Holiday”
“Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)”
“There’s No Business Like Show Business” … and so many more.

His music was recorded by many legends of the golden age of Hollywood: Eddie Fisher, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland; and stars a few decades later such as Barbra Streisand, Cher, Diana Ross, and Leonard Cohen; to those of more recent times such as Diana Krall, Bob Dylan, Harry Connick Jr., Lady Gaga, and Christina Aguilera.

His formula? Writing “well-known tunes expressing simple sentiments were the most reliable.” A Russian immigrant growing up in the slums of New York City, Irving Berlin rose as a songwriter in Tin Pan Alley and Broadway – his “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was his big-break, first-hit song that put him on the map, which sparked a national dance craze (the modern equivalent would be Psy and “Gangnam Style” from a few years ago). His music spread to Los Angeles and appeared in countless Hollywood films.

Berlin’s ritual was to compose a song a day, music and lyrics. He didn’t believe in inspiration, and that his efforts were a “result of work”. He worked best under pressure, and would start composing after dinner and well into the night. He also said, “it’s the lyrics that make the song a hit, although the tune makes it last.” He captured the mood and vibe of the times, and embodied them in his songs.

There is no actual video for this, just audio, but it’s a really good recording from what’s been called “the greatest night in show business history” – Judy Garland’s legendary comeback concert in April of 1961, at Carnegie Hall in New York City. She sings “Puttin’ on the Ritz”.

Irving Berlin was born May 11, 1888 in Tolochin, of the Russian Empire, and died September 22, 1989, in New York City, USA.

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