Illustration by Art Seiden

Florida Atlantic University Libraries

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

1900 to World War II:

A Judaica Collection Exhibit





Irving Berlin: The Nation's Great Composer Of Patriotic Songs

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Irving Berlin once said that, "a patriotic song is an emotion and you must not embarrass an audience with it, or they will hate your guts." This philosophy made him one of Americ 's most outstanding writers of patriotic songs from World War I through World War 11.

In World War 1, he wrote the musical Yip, Yip, Yaphank, which was produced by the men of Camp Upton. In this musical, the big hit song was "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," which reflected Berlin's aversion to rising early. This musical raised more than $150,000 to build a service center at Camp Upton.

On Armistice Day, 1939, he introduced "God Bless America," which was sung by Kate Smith. This song threatened to replace the national anthem because of its patriotism and popularity.

In World War II, he wrote the musical This is the Army, which raised $10 million for the Army Emergency Relief. His hits in this musical were "This is the Army, Mr Jones" and I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen." He also wrote other patriotic songs such as "Any Bonds Today?," "Arms for the Love of America," and "Angels of Mercy" for the American Red Cross.

Berlin was prolific: He wrote more than 900 songs, 19 musicals and the scores of 18 movies. Some of his songs that have become classics include "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Easter Parade," and "White Christmas." He is the top money maker among songwriters in America.

Berlin was born Israel Baline in Eastern Russia on May 11, 1888. He was one of eight children born to Leah and Moses Baline. His father was a shochet (one who kills chickens as prescribed by Jewish religious laws) who was also the cantor in the synagogue. His family moved to New York in 1893 to escape the pogroms in Russia. At the age of eight, he took to the streets of the Lower East Side of New York City to help support his mother and family after his father had died. In the early 1900s he worked as a singing waiter in many restaurants and started writing songs. His first published hit was "Marie From Sunny Italy." His successes continued through two years.

Berlin was married for only a year to Dorothy Goetz, who died from typhoid contracted while on their honeymoon in Cuba in 1913. He married Ellin Mckay in 1926. She was the daughter of Clarence Mckay, president of Postal Telegraph Company, a leading Catholic layman who opposed the wedding. The Berlins had three daughters.

Berlin supported Jewish charities and organizations and donated many dollars to worthwhile causes. On February 18, 1955, President Eisenhower presented him with a gold medal in recognition of his services in composing many patriotic songs for the country. Berlin's World War I doughboy uniform and many of his original patriotic scores are on display in the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington, D.C.

Irving Berlin died on September 22, 1989, at the age of 101. His legacy of music and charity will always be an important part of American life.


This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.


For additional information, contact
Special Collections and Archives
S.E. Wimberly Library



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