Irving Berlin: A Life in Song

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"Alexander's Ragtime Band" ... "God Bless America" ... "White Christmas" ... "Blue Skies" ... "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" ... "Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" ... "Always" ... "Puttin' on the Ritz" ... and hundreds more -- all classics -- are all the legacy of one of America's greatest pop song-writers, Irving Berlin.

Berlin's singular devotion to the art of weaving words and music together produced songs of extraordinary quality. During the course of his career, he wrote thousands of songs, ...

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Overview

"Alexander's Ragtime Band" ... "God Bless America" ... "White Christmas" ... "Blue Skies" ... "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" ... "Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" ... "Always" ... "Puttin' on the Ritz" ... and hundreds more -- all classics -- are all the legacy of one of America's greatest pop song-writers, Irving Berlin.

Berlin's singular devotion to the art of weaving words and music together produced songs of extraordinary quality. During the course of his career, he wrote thousands of songs, sometimes at the rate of at least one a day -- but only a few met his high standards. Eight hundred ninety-nine of his songs were registered for copyright, but it is the quality of these songs that is remarkable. Over half of them became hits, and 282 of them reached the "top ten."

Even more indicative of the quality of his songs is that so many have become "standards" -- the kind of song that transcends its own era of popularity to become a timeless part of our musical heritage. Heard today in jazz and cabaret performances, movie sound tracks, and even in television commercials, these evergreens constitute the closest thing America has to a vital body of classical song.

An immigrant who was raised on New York's Lower East Side, Berlin pulled himself up from the direst poverty to become one of America's most influential figures, a Broadway and Hollywood hitmaker. Self-educated in music, and only able to play the piano in one key, Berlin thought of himself as a craftsman, not an artist, and was always humble in the face of his immense achievements. Although Berlin never denied his background, he eventually became the most American of artists, and his songs celebrated the secular holidays and events -- from war to depression to economic boom -- that are an indelible part of American memory.

Berlin was also an innovator in film and on the musical stage. He molded the character of Fred Astaire by penning such wonderfully sophisticated songs as "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails." He caught the mood of small-town American life in musical films like White Christmas and Easter Parade. And he created for the brassy character of Ethel Merman one of America's greatest female roles in a Broadway musical, Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun.

In this book, musical theater historian Philip Furia has written a musical life of America's most beloved composer. With access to the Irving Berlin Archives, he has brought forth new information on how the songs were created and related this to the important incidents in the composer's life. He has truly delineated a "life in song," for Berlin was a man who drew on his entire life's experiences in crafting his musical work.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The songwriting accomplishments of Irving Berlin (1888-1989) are staggering: "Most songwriters dream of having a single hit song in a lifetime. More than half--451--of Berlin's songs became hits, and 282 of these" reached the Top Ten, according to Furia, an English professor at the University of North Carolina, in this brisk, enjoyable biography. Born Israel Baline in Russia, Berlin moved to New York City with his Russian-Jewish family at age five, learning songwriting fundamentals as a singing waiter in a Chinatown bar/brothel. By age 23, he was a rich wunderkind with some 200 hit songs, and hundreds more to follow. How could Berlin, who had no formal music education and who played the piano in just one key, so quickly achieve the perfect marriage of music and words in classics like "White Christmas," "Easter Parade," "God Bless America" and "There's No Business Like Show Business"? Furia credits Berlin's innate genius, rigorous perfectionism and flair, perhaps greater than any other American songwriter's, for creating so many works that are both timeless and evocative of a specific era. He effectively portrays Berlin as a lonely, hardworking dynamo who composed almost until the day he died, yet who spent his last years as a bitter recluse, and convincingly identifies his broader achievements: completing the Americanization of the Broadway musical with Annie Get Your Gun (1946), revitalizing Tin Pan Alley and shepherding songwriting from Broadway to Hollywood. Scores of photos enliven a narrative studded with cameos of such luminaries as Fred Astaire, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Florenz Ziegfeld, P.G. Wodehouse and Dorothy Parker, to name a few. (Nov.)
Booknews
Furia (English, U. of N. Carolina) presents a musical biography of this songwriter and businessman, beginning with his early days in Bowery bars through his rise to Broadway and Hollywood. Using original research from the Irving Berlin Archives, the author provides new information on how the songs were created and how they related to incidents in the composer's life. Includes a "songography." Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780028648156
  • Publisher: Omnibus Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/1998
  • Series: Pop Song Writers Series
  • Edition number: 28
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
1 Russian Lullaby 1
2 Ragged Meter Man 25
3 I Love a Piano 47
4 A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody 67
5 Say it with Music 87
6 Blue Skies 109
7 The Song is Ended 125
8 How Deep is the Ocean? 145
9 Cheek to Cheek 165
10 God Bless America 191
11 Anything You Can Do 215
12 Count Your Blessings 237
Irving Berlin Songography 267
Endnotes 285
Permissions 301
Index 307
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