On May 11, 1888, one of America’s most beloved and prolific song writers, Israel Baline was born in Tyumen, Russia. His parents immigrated to America when he was a young boy of five. As a Jewish family they came to America to escape religious persecution. He was taught to love, honor, and respect the freedoms enjoyed in America. As a youth he recalled often hearing his mother enthusiastically exclaim; “God bless America!”
From the time he was a little boy he loved making up songs and lyrics. Although he was never formally trained to read, write, or play music, he wrote some of the most beloved songs in America. In an interview he said that he played only the black keys because they were easier to play. He wrote the lyrics for his first published song, Marie from Sunny Italy in 1907. His name was misspelled and listed on the sheet music as ‘I Berlin’. He liked the spelling and eventually changed his name to Irving Berlin. Because he was not trained in the “rules” of songwriting, Irving Berlin said he was free to violate them and the result was often an original twist.
Uncle Sam drafted him in 1917 during World War 1 and stationed him on Long Island’s Camp Upton. He was more than willing to do anything to help the cause, but was not prepared for 5:00 am reveille, so he wrote the song Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in The Morning!:
“Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning, Oh, how I’d love to remain in bed.
For the hardest blow of all is to hear the bugler call.
You’ve got to get up! You’ve got to get up! You’ve got to get up this morning!”
Upon hearing the song, camp officers felt they could put his talents to better use. In exchange for working late and sleeping late, he was asked to write the music for an all male musical comedy entitled Yip, Yip, Yaphank. The musical finale was a song with a very patriotic message. After a couple of performances, he pulled the song because it just didn’t fit as a proper ending for a musical comedy. The song was tucked away for about twenty years.
In 1938, Kate Smith was at the height of her career. Kate was very patriotic and wanted to find a special song to raise the American spirit with the looming threat of Hitler on the European forefront. She called her old friend, Irving Berlin, to see if he could help. He told her he had written a song twenty years earlier, but had not used it or had it published, but she was welcome to use it. He revised a couple of lines of the lyrics and gave it to Kate to perform. Kate absolutely fell in love with the song and on Armistice Day, 1938, she sang the song for the first time on her radio show. She sang the song with such spirit and emotion it was an instant hit….the American public loved it! And to this day it is still one of America’s most beloved songs…….God Bless America.
We don’t often hear the prelude to the song; “While storm clouds gather across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free. Let us be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in solemn prayer….”
“God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam,
God bless America, My home sweet home!”
Because the song meant so much to Americans and went straight to their hearts, neither Irving Berlin nor Kate Smith capitalized on the song. Irving Berlin donated in perpetuity all royalties to the Boy Scouts of America. Kate Smith did the same for the Girls Scouts of America.
Out of more than a thousand songs, a short list would include “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (his first major hit, in 1911), “God Bless America,” “A Pretty Girl Is like a Melody,” “Always,” “Blues Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “How Deep Is the Ocean?,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business like Show Business,” “I Love a Piano,” “What’ll I Do?” “Easter Parade,” and “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.” The last came from one of the two shows Berlin organized and performed in during the two world wars (he can be seen in the film version of the second one, This Is the Army).
For now, Earlynn’s just sayin’: “Thank God for Irving Berlin. The world is a better place because of his music.”
If you would like to read Earlynn’s book, Transformed, just click on the ‘Earlynn’s Book” tab above to order your copy. Thank you. God bless.