Irving Berlin has no place in American music," Jerome Kern famously quipped in 1924, "He is American music." Coming from a man who was himself recognized as one of the great composers of American popular song, this was saying something. And yet in 1924 Irving Berlin had barely begun a career in music that would carry him through another 40 years...and that would have an impact on American music that was--and is--immeasurable.
Through the course of that long career Berlin wrote more than 900 songs, 19 musicals and the scores of 18 movies. Many of those songs have become veritable classics, including "Puttin' On The Ritz", "There's No Business Like Show Business", "Easter Parade", "White Christmas", and "God Bless America". And his catalog of standards is...well, how deep is the ocean?
And what variety in all those songs! From ballad to comic novelty number to patriotic anthem, Berlin seemed to move effortless and with supreme competence. As Alec Wilder put it in his American Popular Music: "Let it be said that he is the best all-around, over-all song writer America has ever had. In this area or that, I will say, and have said, that I believe so-and-so to be the master. But I can speak of only one composer as the master of the entire range of popular song – Irving Berlin."
Yet there is one aspect of Berlin's varied songs that unifies them: their almost uncanny ability to speak to his times and to his fellows. Somehow, time and time again in word and melody Irving Berlin was able to capture--and, indeed, often shape--just what it was to be an American. Irving Berlin's America was, and is, to an extraordinary extent, our America. This is the theme of the 15th annual Oregon Festival of American Music. Please join us!