Irving Berlin – This Week’s Jewish American Profile in History

After his family fled the anti-Jewish pogroms of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, Irving Berlin was raised in a cold-water basement apartment on the lower east side of New York City. He would go from saloon to saloon in the Bowery, signing songs in hopes that the patrons would pitch him a few pennies. Berlin wrote hundreds of songs, many becoming major hits. During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films, with his songs nominated eight times for Academy Awards. In 1934, Life magazine put him on its cover and inside hailed “this itinerant son of a Russian cantor” as “an American institution.” Many songs became popular themes and anthems, including “Easter Parade”, “White Christmas”, and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. His Broadway musical and 1942 film, This is the Army, with Ronald Reagan, featured Kate Smith singing Berlin’s “God Bless America”. In 1954, Berlin received a special Congressional Gold Medal from President Dwight D. Eisenhower for contributing the song.