Talk:Irving Berlin

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Not Everyone Loved His Music[edit]

I for one find it, on the whole, stinks. Woodie Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in response to "God Bless America" (and Kate Smith's rendition of it)because God Bless America is so single-mindedly thoughtless. Berlin wrote songs for a very certain sector of the "American People". He said it wasn't for high-brow or low-brow people but was intended for "everyone else". However I've never understood who "the rest" were. Wasn't me. Maybe it's the Rebublicans? Anyhow the main article doesn't go into any opposing view regarding Berlin's music which makes it very POV.


I've heard on frequent occasion that Irving Berlin had become an atheist somewhere in life. Hopefully this could be verified and added into the Biography somewhere. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:45, 3 November 2007 (UTC)

Info found on Freedom from Religion website, he was born into a Jewish home and became an un-believer early on. There are quotes from his daughter's book. Link Here. Dale (talk) 05:48, 9 July 2009 (UTC)


Somebody (not me) wrote in the article:

(Author's note: I have found some discrepancies between various bio's on Berlin with regards to his early life, I'm not a Irving Berlin fan so I leave it for other more knowledgable than myself to tidy up)

Just thought I'd preserve it here.

Place of Birth[edit]

Irving Berlin's daughter, Mary Ellin Barrett, offers the following to support the claim that Berlin was born in Siberia: "Later-day research by my sister Linda [Emmett] indicates that my father was probably born in western Siberia, in Tyumen (sometimes given as Tumen or Temnun), which is what appears on documents from 1942 on. Confusion arose because the Baline family came from the village of Tolochin in Byelorussia. That was where... Moses and Leah [Berlin's parents] returned after their house burned, and from where they set out to America. Tolochin was in the township of the larger and better known Mogilev - and Mogilev was what... my father put on his naturalization papers and his marriage license. Sometime between 1925 and 1942 he must have had confirmation that he himself was indeed born in Siberia, that his father, an itinerant cantor, had migrated to Tyumen." [original italics]. Mary Ellin Barrett (1994). Irving Berlin: A Daughter's Memoir. Simon & Schuster. footnote on pp. 98-99. ISBN 1439170967. User:MackayWara 15:55, 23 May 2014

There seems to be no agreement about his place of birth. Half of the pages say it's Siberia. And half of the pages say it's Mahilyow (Mogilev), Belarus (then under Russian empire). --rydel 00:34, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)

There's no agreement on his draft registration cards, either, just so you know. (They're available at, if you've got a subscription.) On the card for World War I, he stated he was born in Mogilev. On his card for World War II, his place of birth switches to Tehmen.


added a "d" to richard "rogers" (now "rodgers"); the wrong one was linked.

Note moved from article[edit]

Note: Whoops: Do you by chance mean Summer Time???? If so it was written not by Irving Berlin but by George Gershwin, and it was from Porgy and Bess, not As Thousands Cheer. left by

moved the above question/statement from the article here for review. Doc 20:31, 19 April 2006 (UTC)

No, anon, "Summer Time" and "Supper Time" are different songs, and the reference to Supper Time here was no typo. -- Infrogmation 00:47, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

The first paragraph says he wrote .01 songs, and later he is credited with 1,000. This discrepancy needs to be resolved.

Irving Berlin[edit]

I've removed the suggestion that "Alexander's Ragtime Band" was borrowed from a piece by Scott Joplin because the evidence for this claim falls somewhere between dubious and non-existent, and I've also removed the suggestion that "God Bless America" did not become the National Anthem because Berlin was Jewish, for the same reason. (And besides, most people don't know or care that Berlin was Jewish).

Are you kidding? Everybody knows he was Jewish. Even his "Christmas" songs are known as "Jewish Christmas carols"! And that is ironic because his songs are usually sung as replacements at Christmas when Christian songs are banned.Santamoly (talk) 05:24, 8 December 2012 (UTC)

Berlin and the piano[edit]

It's simply not true, as asserted in the first paragraph, that Berlin never learned to play the piano, and I've removed this claim. He could, and did, play in public on several occasions, and he made use of the piano when writing songs. It IS true that he played mostly on the black keys, like many untrained musicians, and he used a transposing device when he wanted to play in a key other than F-sharp major.

Re: "He reportedly was unable to compose in any key other than F-sharp major (or, presumably, D-sharp minor, since he also wrote songs in minor keys).":
This is too glib for an encyclopedia article. Don't say "reportedly"; report who maintains this or how the information is known. Saying "presumably" doesn't make the presumption less unwarranted.
Only the "natural" form (in contradistinction to the "melodic" and "harmonic" forms) of the minor scale uses a pitch-set identical to that of the relative major scale, and, in any case, many of Berlin's songs are highly chromatic. Why should "many untrained musicians" play "mostly on the black keys" (can we find in Berlin's songs an essential or core pentatonicism?)? How did Berlin cope before he was able to commission the piano with the "transposing device"?
In Alan Jay Lerner's autobiography On the Street Where I Live Lerner recounts the following story: Moss Hart was producing a Berlin musical, and Berlin came to see Hart to demonstrate some new songs. They sounded absolutely horrible, and Hart was disturbed and perplexed. Then an idea occurred to him. "Irving," he said, "play 'Blue Skies' ". Berlin played "Blue Skies", and it sounded absolutely horrible. "Irving," Hart said, "your new songs are great!" TheScotch 08:15, 18 August 2007 (UTC)

I'm back. It turns out Cecil Adams answers some of these questions in his July 8, 2006 syndicated "Straight Dope" column:

"He [Berlin] played almost entirely in the key of F-sharp, allowing him to stay on the black keys as much as possible. This wasn't unheard-of for a self-taught musician, since it's easier for untrained fingers to play the black keys (which are elevated and widely spaced) without hitting wrong notes. In a 1962 interview, Berlin said, 'The black keys are right there, under your fingers. The key of C is for people who study music.'

"So how did he write music if he couldn't write music? Simple--he got someone else to write it down for him....Berlin would bring in whatever he had--sometimes just a whistled melody, sometimes the piano chords to go with it--and the arranger/collaborator would help fill in any blanks, then write it all out in musical notation. 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' the song that made Berlin a star, was dictated to one Alfred Doyle, who reportedly was paid 50 cents a page....

"As Berlin's fame grew, he could afford to hire a secretary with formal music training to transcribe for him. The first of these assistants was pianist Cliff Hess, who held the position from roughly 1912 to 1917, followed after World War I by Arthur Johnston....Finally the job was taken by Helmy Kresa, a German-born musician trained at the Milwaukee Conservatory who worked as Berlin's musical secretary for almost 60 years, with time off for the occasional spat. Kresa was present at the creation of most of Berlin's songs and helped defend the composer against phony plagiarism charges. Berlin always maintained that his musical secretaries were essentially stenographers--the secretary may produce the letter, but the executive has to dictate it." TheScotch 09:32, 18 August 2007 (UTC)

Berlin as lyricist only and definition of his status as composer[edit]

The following should be considered in relation to the above section ("Berlin and the Piano"). Some of this information should be incorporated into the article I think.

Re: "While working as a singing waiter at Pelham's Cafe in Chinatown, Berlin was asked by the proprietor to write an original song for the cafe because a rival tavern had had their own song published. "Marie from Sunny Italy" was the result, and it was soon published.":

This passage from the "Early life" section of this wikipedia article is misleading if the related passages of an Irving Berlin biographical sketch at are correct. The sketch maintains that the music to "Marie from Sunny Italy" was composed by Nick Nicholson, the establishment's pianist. It maintains further that Berlin first worked solely as a lyricist and only began to attempt to compose music when a misunderstanding arose concerning his lyric "Dorando". He tried to sell the lyric to someone who assumed he had music to go with it. Although at the time he could play no instrument at all, he endeavored to come up with some with the help of an arranger whom the sketch seems to suggest was really its co-composer.

The sketch includes a quotation from a book by Alec Wilder (American Popular Song, 1972, page 93):

"I heard Berlin play the piano, back in vaudeville days and found his harmony notably inept. --Yet [arranger and composer] Robert Russell Bennett states unequivocally that upon hearing someone's harmonization of his songs, Berlin would insist on a succession of variant chords ..and was not satisfied until the right chord was found. I must accept the fact that though Berlin may seldom have played acceptable harmony, he nevertheless , by some mastery of his inner ear, senses it, in fact writes many of his melodies with his natural, intuitive harmonic sense at work in his head, but not in his hands." TheScotch 11:46, 18 August 2007 (UTC)

In any case, the evidence seems to me to suggest clearly that Berlin relied on uncredited co-composers, and the article as it currently reads is very misleading in this regard. TheScotch 17:24, 4 September 2007 (UTC)

family name[edit]

I've changed the family name back from "Beilin" to "Baline" on the authority of the book by Berlin's daughter, Mary Ellin Barrett. "Baline" is the form used by the family itself, in spite of whatever immigration officials wrote down. His name was spelled IRWING, not Irving... "w" is pronounced as a "v".

pictorial matter[edit]

In my revision of this article, several images have disappeared, including a portrait of Berlin on the cover of TIME magazine. These should be restored, but I don't know how to do this.


Consuelo Vanderbilt Wedding[edit]

In the article, it says that Ellin was disinvited from Consuelo Vanderbilt's wedding. The article on Consuelo says that she was married in 1921, whereas the Irving's were married in 1926. How could she be disinvited from a wedding that happened four years previously??Shahrdad 17:04, 5 February 2007 (UTC)

Interesting point. I have just undone an unidentified editor's out-of-place comment to the same, or similar, effect, and went off to check out the corresponding article. Vanderbilt had re-married in 1921. But there is mention of Vanderbilt's brother having a daughter also named Consuelo. Could there be an explanation in there somewhere? Interested regards, --Technopat (talk) 00:51, 20 March 2008 (UTC)


If he was born in Russia, should his title not be Russian-American composer? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Leethal (talkcontribs) 21:41, 21 February 2007 (UTC).

Of course it should. I understand the urge to have the article as part of "belarus-related" articles, but there was no national entity, only a region. There is no excuse, really, for national pride dictating misinformation. But really it should be American composer born in RussiaActio (talk) 23:00, 28 July 2008 (UTC)

"Self-taught pianist" and ff.[edit]

Re: "Like many other Tin Pan Alley musicians, Berlin was a self-taught pianist.":

Is this non-neutral special pleading? What do the others have to do with it?

Re: "For much of his career, he only knew how to play the black keys, which limited him to the key of F-sharp.":

1) Why "for much of his career"? 2) I think he probably knew how to push down the white keys too. 3) Since the F# major scale involves two white keys, B and E#, and both the Db major scale and the B major scale also include all black keys, it wouldn't have limited him to the key of F# unless his music was strictly pentatonic and strictly in the major mode. His music was not.

Re: "He even justified it by insisting that 'the key of C is for people who study music'.":

Even here seems to me to be POV.

Re: "This self-imposed restriction would have severely limited his output had he not made use of the transposing piano, a special piano with a lever under the keyboard which would alter the music to any key.":

Whether it would have "severely limited his output" seems to me speculation on the part of the editor.

Re; "Even with his 'trick piano', most often Berlin began the process of composing by singing or humming a tune or lyric, using the piano to work out only the most basic rhythms and punctuations, and then memorizing it and later dictating it to a collaborator who would record the music and arrange it.":

Do we really know specifically how Berlin composed? Is there a reference for this? TheScotch 08:37, 16 September 2007 (UTC)

I might be wrong, but this reads as though it is either derived from Laurence Bergreen's book, "As Thousands Cheer", or possibly taken from the same sources as Bergreen.
Like many self-taught musicians, he hit only the black keys ... Playing on the black keys alone restricted him to the key of F-sharp major, but Berlin refused to change his habits. "The black keys are right there under your fingers" he explained in his defense, adding with a faint sneer reserved for the educated few, "The key of C is for people who study music."
His protest to the contrary, playing only the black keys deprived him of the ability to explore a wide range of musical subtleties ... without some way of manipulating his melodies, he would never be able to call himself a songwriter ...
Even with this wonderful gadget at his disposal, he still began the process of composing in the most basic way: with his voice. "I get an idea," he explained, "either a title or a phrase or a melody, and hum it out to something definite. When I have completed a song and memorised it, I dictate it to an arranger.
Bergreen's sources are:
Key of C: Interview with Irving Berlin, WBAL Radio, Nov 7 1962
Transposing piano: The Story of Irving Berlin, Alexander Woolcott.
"I get an idea": Green Book magazine, Feb 1915
It's also apparent from Bergreen that Berlin was still using transposing pianos into his 70's, although he managed on a normal instrument if that was the only one available.
--Stephen Burnett 18:38, 17 September 2007 (UTC)

Thanks. 1) I think it might be better to use the Berlin quote about how he composed directly. 2) I've known a lot of "self-taught musicians" in my time, and despite all this "like many", none of them confined themselves to the black keys of the piano. In fact, Berlin is the only person I ever heard of in my entire life who confined himself to the black keys. I think Berlin might better have said, "The key of C is for people who aren't idiosyncratic in precisely the way that I am." In any case, I don't think the article should belabor this point: it should mention black keys and the transposing piano only briefly, en passant. 3) I don't care who says "playing on the black keys alone [restricts] [one] to the key of F-sharp major"; it demonstrably isn't true. TheScotch 02:18, 18 September 2007 (UTC)

It occurred to me just now that Berlin might have restricted himself solely to the black keys of the piano and hummed the two "white notes" that complete the diatonic scale as well as the chromatic notes he needed in songs like "White Christmas"--or maybe his "arrangers" functioned not only as transcribers, arrangers, and harmony-suppliers, but also contributed to the composition of the vocal line as well. TheScotch 02:33, 18 September 2007 (UTC)

I just trimmed the paragraph in question. TheScotch 19:34, 19 September 2007 (UTC)

Deleted unreferenced source for Alfred Doyle[edit]

Greetings All and TheScotch, in particular, While few people hold Cecil Adams at The Straight Dope in greater esteem than yours truly, his reference for Doyle's collaboration in writing Alexander's Ragtime Band does not - in my opinion (but I don't want to make an issue of this) - warrant the man being credited as coauthor. The original score at Duke University's Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library Original Sheet Music edition from Historic American Sheet Music: 1910-1920 - The Digital Scriptorium, available from the above link, makes no mention of the 'fact' - in itself, typical of most songwriting credits in any case - but my understanding of The Straight Dope's reference is that Doyle only transcribed the lyrics/notes. Unless Doyle's collaboration was long-term and ongoing, maybe this apparent one-off could be included at the song's dedicated article? Regards, --Technopat (talk) 11:14, 5 January 2008 (UTC)

I didn't mean to imply that Doyle was necessarily a "coauthor". At the very least (assuming Adams is right) he was a transcriber. I originally wrote "with the help of Alfred Doyle" then decided that there was too much of this phrase in the article already. Let's not be coy, however: given Berlin's history, the chances are very great that Doyle was in fact a "coauthor"--which is not to suggest that the article itself should put it this way. It would be nice to know what Adams's source is, but until we discover that, I think you need to say more clearly why you think Adams himself is not a valid wikipedia source--if you do maintain he isn't, that is. Whether Doyle's contributions were "long-term and ongoing" seems to me irrelevant to this article (I'm not concerned at the moment with the "Alexander's Ragtime Band" article): Berlin's reliance on musical collaborators in general was apparently very "long-term and ongoing". For now, I'll take the liberty of adding, as I originally intended, "with the help of Alfred Doyle", and leave it until I think (or someone else thinks) of a less repetitious way of phrasing this or until someone explains why Adams isn't a valid wikipedia source. TheScotch (talk) 10:18, 6 January 2008 (UTC)

Here, for the sake of reading ease, is the Adams quote again in context: "Berlin would bring in whatever he had--sometimes just a whistled melody, sometimes the piano chords to go with it--and the arranger/collaborator would help fill in any blanks, then write it all out in musical notation. 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' the song that made Berlin a star, was dictated to one Alfred Doyle, who reportedly was paid 50 cents a page." The first sentence implies to me that Doyle likely "[filled] in [the] blanks", which to my mind in another way of saying that he composed the music in part. TheScotch (talk) 08:30, 13 January 2008 (UTC)

Proposal to set up separate page listing Berlin's songs[edit]

Greetings TheScotch and All,

Agree in principle to the need to reduce the length of the article page, but also taking into consideration the need to maintain more than just a passing reference to Berlin's works, as the headline suggests, I propose etc. Feedback? Regards, --Technopat (talk) 00:04, 14 February 2008 (UTC)

Greetings All,
Coupla months back I proposed setting up a separate article page listing B's songs (see para. above). No response so far, so have been "bold" and added the incomplete template as per Wikipedia:WikiProject Lists as a stop gap solution. Any incomplete/partial list is obviously POV (which songs get included? The ones on someone's personal list of 25,000 Songs You Must Listen To Before You Die, or some such nonsense? The BBC's Top of the Pops?) and as such not acceptable on Wikipedia. I really would like some feedback on this as I agree with TheScotch in that the article becomes too long if we include all the songs ever written by B., but that's precisely why I suggested a separate list as is the custom in many other cases. --Technopat (talk) 22:15, 9 May 2008 (UTC)

Re: "Any incomplete/partial list is obviously POV (which songs get included?....'":

I can't agree with this remark. A "partial" list should include some of Berlin's most famous songs. Concensus can easily be achieved about most of these ("White Christmas", for example), and the few borderline cases are unlikely to be hotly disputed. The problem we're having here is the main problem we have at Wikipedia in general: People like to drop by and add things without considering the value of the addition. It takes little thought or skill to add an entry to a list, and the worth of such an entry is proportionately low. After a certain point, more entries only clutter the article.

In any case, I have no especial opinion about a list of Berlin's songs separate and distinct from the article. Past experience suggests to me that such a list may not survive, but I won't interfere with it. TheScotch (talk) 05:16, 10 May 2008 (UTC) TheScotch (talk) 05:16, 10 May 2008 (UTC)

Greetings TheScotch and All - Have meditated long and hard over this :) and really do think that, given the number of standards Berlin produced (alone or with help), we need a separate "List of ..." as a reference. I'm not especially fond of lists on Wikipedia, but they do occasionally come in handy - especially in the case of "that song by Berlin, you know the one..." which is invariably NOT included in any partial list. Being-bold regards, --Technopat (talk) 08:36, 4 August 2008 (UTC)

Go for it. TheScotch (talk) 23:21, 5 August 2008 (UTC)

Cheers! I'm counting on your esteemed knowledge for help in referencing & general wikifying (other interested editors are welcome, too!). Regards, --Technopat (talk) 07:37, 6 August 2008 (UTC)

Refusal to sell single song sheet music[edit]

I was told in a music store that it was impossible to buy single songs of Berlin's work (this was while he was alive), because Berlin didn't like the idea that his less popular songs would be ignored. So the collections each included a couple of his best songs, filled out with others. Any truth to that? (talk) 16:28, 27 March 2008 (UTC)

I don't know, but I do know that the term sheet music refers to "single [songs]" (or pieces), which makes the phrase "single song sheet music" redundant. Most "collections", in contradistinction, are "folios". The general term that includes both sheet music and folios is simply music. TheScotch (talk) 07:03, 28 March 2008 (UTC)

Date of birth[edit]

Since there's no documentary evidence of where he was born, I guess the same applies to evidence of his date of birth. I assume "11 May 1888" was a date in the Julian calendar (which corresponds to 23 May 1888 in the Gregorian calendar), but do we know that for sure? -- JackofOz (talk) 10:11, 24 July 2008 (UTC)


He's described here as a "political conservative," but the only evidence cited is his support of Dwight D. Eisenhower. I believe he was also a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a liberal Democrat. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:11, 1 February 2010 (UTC)

Great Grandchildren[edit]

I think reference to Berlin's great-grandchildren should be removed from this article. It is a hostage to fortune in terms of keeping the article accurate. At the time of writing, under the heading "Marriages", the article reads: "Mr. Berlin is also survived by nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren." Two paragraphs later, under "Death", we are told he has twelve great-grandchildren. Bizarrely, these both cite the same reference.

Presumably as time goes on, he may acquire more. While personally delighted to know that Mr Berlin has so many descendants, where does an article like this stop in keeping track of them all? I suggest going no further than the generation of his grandchildren, whose numbers will now presumably be unlikely to increase.

Solaricon (talk) 15:53, 26 March 2010 (UTC)

Good article?[edit]

I find this article very impressive. I wonder if any of the main contributors has thought about nominating it for Good Article? - Tim riley (talk) 16:21, 12 May 2010 (UTC)

I think the rules require 3rd party non-contributors to do such nominations. --Wikiwatcher1 (talk) 16:31, 12 May 2010 (UTC)
No, anyone can nominate. The GA reviewer must be a non-contributor. However, why not do a brief peer review first, just to see if anyone has clean-ups before pushing to GA? I would specifically ask reviewers for technical comments, like whether they agree that the refs are WP:RSs. Best regards, -- Ssilvers (talk) 00:01, 13 May 2010 (UTC)

Cannot find any way to add Doris Day to covering artists. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:00, 12 January 2011 (UTC)

Fixed--Wikiwatcher1 (talk) 02:19, 12 January 2011 (UTC)

Ellin Mackay[edit]

Why is there no articel about Ellin Mackay, who was a writer (for The New Yorker), not just a heiress? — Preceding unsigned comment added by 13Peewit (talkcontribs) 08:25, 28 May 2011 (UTC)

White Christmas[edit]

I think there be some reference in this section about Irving Berlin Jr. who died at three months of age- on Christmas Eve. It's possible or better probable that the boy inspired the song.Dcrasno (talk) 18:35, 9 January 2012 (UTC)