American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 14

Irving Berlin

Anyone who discusses American history, popular music, and specifically vaudeville must mention Irving Berlin, not only as a great songwriter but a significant contributor to American society and popular culture. During a career that spanned more than 80 years, Irving Berlin, best known for post-vaudeville songs such as “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” developed a unique ability to communicate the sentiments values, morals and customs of society over many periods.

In a response to a query by Alexander Woollcott, who asked composer Jerome Kern to assess Irving Berlin’s place in American music, Kern replied “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.” Kern further wrote that Berlin “honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time, and in turn, gives these impressions back to the world–simplified–clarified–glorified.”

It was through hard work, tenacity, and a natural talent for songwriting that an immigrant of Russian and Jewish descent, with no formal musical training, rose to such prominence as a writer of American popular song. Irving Berlin wrote more than 1500 songs, more than one third of those as vaudeville was still going strong. Vaudeville was, in fact, Berlin’s musical training ground.