Irving Berlin


Born: May 11th, 1888 in Tyumen, Russia
Died: September 22nd, 1989 (at age 101) in New York City, NY
Nationality: American
Fields: lyricist and composer
Famous For: Arguably the greatest songwriter in American history
Awards: Medal of Merit, two Tony Awards, Congressional Gold Medal, Grammy, inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame

Irving Berlin was a famous American composer and lyricist. He was born in the present-day Belarus in 1888. Today he is considered one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever seen. His family was of Jewish origin and they migrated to New York in 1893.

Early Life

Berlin’s family settled on Cherry Street and his father was unable to find similar jobs like he had in Belarus. He took simple jobs and later passed away when Berlin was only thirteen. Forced to help support his family, Irving became a newspaper boy. After much frustration and without a formal education, Irving decided to take up music which was his father’s vocation. He joined with fellow youngsters and started singing for saloon customers in lower East New York.

Music became part of his life as it was his new-found source of livelihood. He learned the kind of tunes that appealed to customers and took advantage of this to market his skill and make more money. He would teach himself piano when the bar closed.


He was recognized by Max Winslow who even tried to offer him a job. Max was a member of staff at Harry Von Tilzer, a publishing company. At 20, Irving took a job at a saloon in Union Square and from there he was able to work together with other songwriters such as Ted Snyder, Edgar Leslie and Al Piantadosi. His break came in 1908 when Synder offered him a job at the Ted Synder Company as a staff lyricist.

His first famous hit song was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911. He rose to fame and became an instant celebrity. This opened many doors for his career. Later in that year, he was featured at the Oscar Hammerstein vaudeville house. His first famous song was soon followed by “Watch your step” which starred two dancers who had sparked a national dance craze following his first song. His career was on the rise and most of his songs were national hits.

When WWI erupted, Irving was drafted in the army which wanted him to write patriotism songs. He composed the famous “Yip Yip Yaphank” while stationed at Camp Upton, New York, which was a patriotic tribute to the US army. He followed it up with further hits such as “Oh! How I hate to get up in the morning” and “Mandy.” Some of his most memorable hit songs include “What Will I Do,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “Marie,” “Say it Isn’t So,” and “God Bless America.”

Personal Life and Death

Berlin married Dorothy Goetz in 1912, but she later died of typhoid fever. He then married Ellin Mackay with whom he had four children. He died on September 22nd, 1989 in New York due to natural causes, leaving behind and incredible music legacy.