You may not know the name Israel Isidore Baline, but I’m sure you know his music. He was better known by nom de plume Irving Berlin, and over more than half a century he wrote hundreds of songs – a number of which are still a part of the American musical consciousness.
Berlin is one of the subjects of David Grubin’s fine three-parter The Jewish Americans, which is currently airing on PBS (KERA Channel 13 in Dallas/Fort Worth, natch). He is featured in Part Two (“The Best of Times, the Worst of Times”) which details the lives of Jews in America the early part of 20th century and appears on KERA this Wednesday at 8 p.m.
The prolific composer and lyricist’s popular tunes include “God Bless America,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “Cheek to Cheek,” but he is probably best known for “White Christmas”. According to Wikipedia,
(Bing) Crosby’s single of “White Christmas” was recognized as the best-selling single in any music category for more than 50 years until 1997, when Elton John’s tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, “Candle in the Wind,” overtook it in a matter of months. … ”White Christmas” won Berlin the Academy Award for Best Music in an Original Song, one of seven Oscar nominations he received over the course of his career. He is the only winner in the history of the award to find his own name in the envelope on Oscar night.
You can watch a clip on Berlin from the documentary, as well as clips on Sid Caesar and Yiddish theater, right here. Part 3 of the full version (which airs Jan. 23 at 8 p.m.) features more recent performers including Barbara Streisand, Jerry Seinfeld and Matisyahu, a Hasidic Jew rap artist.