Born Israel Isidore Baline on this day in Eastern Russia, songwriter Irving Berlin (1888-1989) immigrated with his family to New York in 1893. A rags-to-riches story, he grew up poor, singing on the street for pennies. By age 19, "Izzy" was a singing waiter who published music.
"Songs make history and history makes songs," said Berlin who gained international fame with Alexander's Ragtime Band in 1911.
With over 1,000 songs, 30 Broadway shows and 17 Hollywood musicals to his credit, Berlin reflected later in life, "I've not done badly for a poor immigrant boy who can't read music."
His lyrics celebrated simplicity and went straight to the heart. "A pretty girl is like a melody/ That haunts you day and night," he wrote.
According to biographer Laurence Bergreen, Berlin could not read or write music and only played the piano's black keys. Berlin's original version of God Bless America was lighthearted and written in 1918. He revised the tune in 1938 for singer Kate Smith to reflect a more patriotic spirit. All profits for the song were signed over to the Boy Scouts and the Girls Scouts.
"The toughest thing about success," said Berlin, "is that you've got to keep on being a success." His many, many works of genius included such classic as Puttin' on the Ritz (1930), Easter Parade (1948), White Christmas (1954), and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954).
Follow your talent to greatness.