Music has always had a profound effect on the American public. It is not only catchy tunes that mesmerize listeners, but also the messages buried in the lyrics of a song. No one was more talented at this than Bayside resident Irvin Berlin.
Berlin was born on May 11, 1888 in Siberia, Russia. Actually named Israel Baline, Berlin was one of eight children to Leah and Moses Baline. The family emigrated to New York City in 1893 to escape the persecution of Jews in Russia. They settled into a house overlooking Crocheron Park in Bayside. Berlin was immediately compelled to develop his musical mind.
Berlin's father worked as a shochet, preparing kosher meat for the Jewish community; he also served as the cantor at a local synagogue. Moses Baline died in 1896, forcing Berlin to find a job to support the family at the tender age of eight. Berlin began singing in the streets for pennies. He later found a job as a singing waiter in various restaurants on the Lower East Side.
One of the restaurants he worked at in Chinatown requested that Berlin write a song since a rival restaurant had a song of its own published. Though Berlin never learned to read music, he was able to create his first composition ‘Marie of Sunny Italy' in 1907. Berlin's first big hit came in 1911 with a song titled ‘Alexander's Ragtime Band.' His career as a composer and lyricist took off from here.
Berlin joined the Army in 1917 to fight in World War I. While in the Army, he wrote the musical ‘Yip, Yip Yaphank.' The show was a success and raised over $150,000, which was used to build a service center at Camp Upton. In 1918, Berlin wrote one of his most famous songs, &#8220God Bless America,” but the song was not immediately released.
As Hitler began to rise in Germany, Berlin decided to revive &#8220God Bless America” and the song was officially released on Armistice Day, November 11, 1938. The song peaked in 1943 with the release of the movie &#8220This is the Army”, featuring &#8220God Bless America” sung by Kate Smith. The song was so popular that it threatened to replace the national anthem. &#8220This is the Army” raised $10 million for Army Emergency Relief.
In 1942, Berlin wrote another of his most popular songs, &#8220White Christmas,” for the musical &#8220Holiday Inn”, which started Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds. The record has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and today is widely considered the song that ushers in the holiday season.
On February 18, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower bestowed upon Berlin a gold medal in recognition of his contributions in composing patriotic songs. Berlin died on September 22, 1989 at the ripe age of 101. Fellow songwriter Jerome Kern said of Berlin, &#8220Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.”

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