Irving Berlin is best known for writing songs such as "White Christmas", "There's No Business Like Show Business", and "Anything You Can Do". All in all, he wrote some 1,000 songs.
But did you know he couldn't read music? He couldn't. Having taught himself to play piano, Berlin played mostly the black keys. Later, he would have a piano constructed with a lever underneath the keyboard which effectively moved the keys. This enabled him to play what were normally "white key" notes on the black keys.
Irving Berlin was born in Siberia, Russia, to a Jewish family. His family immigrated to the United States in 1893 when he was 5. His father was a cantor, singing Jewish prayers in the synagogue, and also worked certifying kosher meat. Following his father's death in 1896, when he was 8, Berlin began doing odd jobs to earn money, including selling newspapers and "busking". Essentially he was a street performer working for tips. His first song was written for a cafe in which he was working as a singing waiter.
His song "White Christmas" was first recorded in 1942 and sold over 30 million copies. It was re-released in 1954 for the musical film of the same name. But the most recognized version today was sung by Bing Crosby in the film "Holiday Inn". It is currently the most recorded Christmas song of all time. Irving Berlin would win an Academy Award for the song as well as receive seven Oscar nominations over his lifetime.
Irving Berlin was married twice. His first wife died of pneumonia during a bout of typhoid fever just 5 months after their wedding. He wrote his song "When I Lost You" in her memory. His 2nd wife was an heiress of some considerable fortune and a Catholic. Their marriage was not condoned on either family's side and afterwards they were both "snubbed" by society. To support her, Berlin gave her the rights to his song "Always" from which she netted a considerable sum. They would have four children, three girls and one boy, Irving Berlin, Jr., who died as infant on Christmas Day.
Born in 1888, Irving Berlin died September 22, 1989. He was 101.
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