Berlin, Irving [Baline, Israel]
- Gerald Bordman
- , revised by Thomas S. Hischak
(b Mogilyov, May 11, 1888; d New York, Sept 22, 1989). American composer of Russian birth. The son of an impoverished Jewish cantor, he was taken to America at the age of five. His father died when he was 13, and a year later he ran away from home, rather than be a burden to his mother. He sang for pennies outside cabarets, became a chorus boy, a stooge in vaudeville, a song plugger and a singing waiter. Berlin had no formal musical training, but taught himself to play the piano, if only in one key, F♯. He began churning out songs, usually serving as his own lyricist, and finally caught America’s ear with Alexander’s Ragtime Band in 1911.
Berlin had three phenomenally successful careers: he was one of Broadway’s most melodic composers, he scored some of Hollywood’s most beloved film musicals, and he was a Tin Pan Alley songwriter with more singles hits than any other composer. It was as a Tin Pan Alley composer that he found early success, but throughout his life he wrote many songs outside the context of a show or film. Among his popular hits were ...