Irving Berlin: A Life in Songby Philip Furia, Graham Wood
Berlin's singular devotion to the
"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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