Tag Archives: Irving Berlin

Song: “God Bless America”

Kate Smith has always been identified with this great song, written in 1918 by Irving Berlin. She introduced it on her radio show in 1938, then sang it in the movie "This Is The Army" during World War II. Uploaded by bibliopolit.com.

Hard to believe, but “God Bless America” languished unsung and unknown for its first twenty years. The great Irving Berlin (Great American Things, May 11, 2010) composed the song in 1918 for a review he created, then decided it didn’t really fit. Then, as World War II threatened Europe (and Berlin’s fellow Jews), he resurrected the song for Kate Smith, who sang it during her radio show on the twentieth anniversary of the end of WWI.

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Many people are unaware of the opening stanza, which Kate Smith always included: “While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free / Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.” Of course, Smith has been associated with the song ever since. She performed it in the WWII musical, This Is the Army, itself adapted from Berlin’s Broadway Musical of the same name.

“God Bless America” is easier to sing, and less “militaristic” than the Star Spangled Banner, leading some to urge its adoption as our national anthem. That’s not likely to happen, but the song can still bring a thrill to any Patriotic American. Here’s Kate Smith’s original version, followed by a great rendition by Martina McBride.

Song: “White Christmas”

"White Christmas" was released in July 1942 - and did nothing. Must have been the season. By the end of October it was number one, and upon re-releases reached the charts an astounding 20 times. Uploaded by ecx.images-amazon.com.

My favorite Christmas album in my childhood was Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas, which was released as an LP in 1949 and has never since been out of print. It’s still one of the most popular Christmas albums ever, and of course it contains the classic Irving Berlin song, “White Christmas.”

Crosby first performed “White Christmas” on his NBC radio show on Christmas Day, 1941. He recorded it the following year, and included it in an album of songs from the movie Holiday Inn. The album debuted in July, and maybe the season wasn’t right, because the song floundered. But by the end of October it topped the charts, where it stayed for eleven weeks. Re-released each holiday season, it also went to number one in 1945 and 1946. In fact, it appeared on the

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charts for twenty separate years, eventually leading Billboard to create a separate chart just for holiday music.

The song as it appeared in Holiday Inn received the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and it helped make the movie White Christmas the runaway box office champion of 1954. The song’s many appearances on the charts have led to it being the best-selling single of all time – more than 50 million sold, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Counting the albums it’s been on, that total exceeds 100 million. Bing Crosby gets the credit, and deserves it; but don’t forget the brilliance of Irving Berlin (Great American Things, May 11, 2010) who wrote this wonderful song.

Film: White Christmas

With wonderful songs by Irving Berlin, it was the first movie ever filmed in VistaVision. Wow. Uploaded by timeout.com.

Viewing a special movie on Christmas Eve is a tradition in many families. Some watch It’s a Wonderful Life (Great American Things, December 1, 2009), or A Christmas Story (Great American Things, December 9, 2009). At our house, though, it’s the 1954 classic, White Christmas.

Bing Crosby (Great American Things, December 19, 2009) and Danny Kaye are two Army buddies who form a hugely successful musical act. They then fall in love with a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen) and scheme how to save their commanding general’s Vermont inn.

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As you might expect, though, it’s the music that makes the movie. Great, memorable songs by Irving Berlin, including “Sisters,” “It’s Cold Outside,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” and of course, “White Christmas.”

Some interesting facts about the movie:
* Danny Kaye’s part was originally written for Fred Astaire, then Donald O’Connor, then rewritten for Kaye.
* The film’s recording rights were with Decca, but Rosemary Clooney was contracted to Columbia. As a result there were two “White Christmas” albums. Peggy Lee sang Clooney’s parts on the Decca version. On the Columbia version, Clooney sang “Sisters” with her real-life sister, Betty.
* “White Christmas” did not first appear in this movie. In fact, this was the third movie to include the song.
* It was the top-grossing film of 1954.

Actor: Fred Astaire

Of all his dance partners, Astaire is still linked in the public mind most closely to Ginger Rogers. Uploaded by img.photobucket.com.

You’ll get a kick out of the studio’s evaluation of Fred Astaire’s initial screen test. It’s purported to have read: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.” Yeah, just a little. No less a talent than Gene Kelly said, “The history of dance on film begins with Astaire.”

Fred experienced great success on Broadway in such successes as the Gershwins’ Funny Face and Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce (renamed The Gay Divorcee for film). But the world of movies and Hollywood beckoned, and he went west and appeared in his first film in 1933. He first danced with Ginger Rogers in that year’s Flying Down to Rio, and he went on to partner with her in nine more pictures.

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It’s generally agreed that while Rogers wasn’t the most talented dancer of Fred’s partners, she just looked right with him. She seemed to be having the time of her life. Others he danced with, with varying degrees of success, include Eleanor Powell, Paulette Goddard, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, and Leslie Caron. One of his highest compliments was payed to Charisse. “When you dance with her,” he said, “you stay danced.”

At least two of his routines are film classics. And, though we remember Astaire most for his partner dances, these were both solos. The first is “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” from the film Blue Skies. Here, he wears his signature top hat and tails, and parodies his upcoming retirement in what was then known as “Fred Astaire’s last dance.” (He unretired two years later.) The other is his dancing on the ceiling number from Royal Wedding. Everyone loves it, so here it is for your enjoyment: