I’ve featured some outstanding American songwriters on this site, those who’ve penned both contemporary hits and classics from the great American songbook. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get to Irving Berlin, because he may very well have written more songs that are part of our nation’s cultural fabric than anyone else.
Berlin was a legend before he reached 30. His first song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” became a huge hit not just in the USA, but around the world. Although born in Russia, his family came to this country when he was just five. He said he wanted to “reach the heart of the average American,” something he undoubtedly accomplished.
The streets and restaurants of lower Manhattan provided Berlin his music laboratory. He sang on the corners for pennies, became a singing waiter in Chinatown (where he learned to play the piano after hours), and finally started writing songs of his own.
During his lifetime he wrote sheet music, films, and Broadway plays – some 1,500 songs in all. Of his influence, the New York Times wrote, “Irving Berlin set the tone and the tempo for the tunes America played and sang and danced to for much of the 20th century.” Here’s a list of some of his most popular hits:
“A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” • “Always” • “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” • “Blue Skies” • “Cheek to Cheek” • “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” • “Easter Parade” • “God Bless America” • “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” • “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” • “Marie” • “Puttin’ on the Ritz” • “The Girl that I Marry” • “There’s No Business Like Show Business” • “What’ll I Do?” • “White Christmas”