Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin,1888-1989
Pach Brothers, circa 1907
National Portrait Gallery

The rags to riches saga of Irving Berlin is as exciting as any musical comedy scenario. A Russian Jewish peasant by birth, he abandoned, home school and childhood at the age of fourteen, striking out on his own to make his way in the world. After a number of hardscrabble jobs, he discovered a raw unclutivated talent for making music that became a battle cry of freedom from the despair of his Lower East Side surroundings. Teaching himself to play the piano by picking out tunes on the black keys, he propelled himself into a job as a song plugger in Tin Pan Alley. His success there led to a long career as one of musical theater's leading voices in the capacities of composer-lyracist, producer and occasional performer