Irving Berlin: From Rags to Ritzes
28 January 2014: The Royal Festival Hall, London
The 125th year anniversary concert of one of the greatest ever songwriters and lyricists of the 20th Century
Tickets for the Tuesday 28 January 2014 show will be available from Friday 4th October at 9am.
Irving Berlin was one of the most prolific and popular songwriters of the 20th century, counting among his many hits “White Christmas” and “Cheek to Cheek.”
With a life that spanned more than 100 years and a catalogue that boasted over 1000 songs, Irving Berlin epitomized Jerome Kern’s famous maxim that [quote]”Irving Berlin has no place in American music — he is American music.”[/quote]
Irving Berlin was born Israel Beilin on May 11, 1888. One of eight children, his exact place of birth is unknown, although his family had been living in Tolochin, Byelorussia, when they immigrated to New York in 1893. When his father died, Berlin, just turned 13, took to the streets in various odd jobs, working as a busker singing for pennies, then as a singing waiter in a Chinatown Cafe. In 1907 he published his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy,” and by 1911 he had his first major international hit — “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
In 1925 Irving Berlin wrote “Always” to woo young heiress Ellin Mackay, whom he had met earlier that year. As she was a Catholic and Berlin Jewish, newspapers followed their romance as this was unusual at this time. Her father Clarence Mackay opposed the match from the start sending Ellin to Europe to forget Berlin. This didn’t work and they eloped before marrying in a private civil ceremony on 4 January 1926. Their union remained a love affair as they were inseparable over their 63-year marriage, during which they had four children. She died in July 1988.
Over the next five decades after the 1925, Irving Berlin produced an outpouring of ballads, dance numbers, novelty tunes and love songs that defined American popular song for much of the century.
He was equally at home writing for Broadway and Hollywood. He wrote seventeen complete scores for Broadway musicals and revues, and contributed material to six more. Among the shows featuring all-Berlin scores were The Cocoanuts, as Thousands Cheer, Louisiana Purchase, Miss Liberty, Mr. President, Call Me Madam and the phenomenally successful Annie Get Your Gun.
Among the Hollywood movie musical classics with scores by Irving Berlin are Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, on the Avenue, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Holiday Inn, This Is the Army, Blue Skies, Easter Parade, White Christmas and There’s No Business Like Show Business. His songs have provided memorable moments in dozens of other films, from The Jazz Singer (1927) to Home Alone(1991).
Among his many awards were a special Tony Award (1963) and the Academy Award for Best Song of the Year for “White Christmas” in 1942.
Irving Berlin’s centennial in 1988 was celebrated worldwide, culminating in an all-star tribute at Carnegie Hall benefitting the Hall and ASCAP, subsequently an Emmy Award winning special on CBS, and featuring such varied luminaries of the musical world as Frank Sinatra, Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Natalie Cole and Willie Nelson.
On September 22, 1989, at the age of 101, Irving Berlin died in his sleep in his town house in New York City.