As a special addition to this blog we will regularly examine a famous immigrant who contributed significantly to American culture. The U.S. is a country of immigrants and you might be pleasantly surprised to learn their stories and where these personalities come from.
A Shaky Start
Irving Berlin emigrated from the Russian country-side to escape the Tsar’s pogroms, state sanctioned massacres of Russian Jews. He ended up living with his family in the poorest part of New York City and he struggled to help his parents make ends meet. After a while he began a career singing popular songs and then eventually writing them. His career was unbelievably successful and his songs are some of the most familiar tunes in the Western world.
Popular music holds a special place in the American character and if you’d care to disagree with that statement just look out for the next argument you hear on the street about whether or not a particular song is good or not. You won’t have to wait long to see people’s passions in music!
Irving Berlin’s Songs
For many Americans, childhood memories often contain vivid recollections of Christmas time: the smell of cookies or traditional dinners, the peppermint taste of candy, the excitement of the season and Christmas songs. One of the more famous Christmas songs is entitled “White Christmas” and encapsulates the excited memories of Americans’ childhood winters with the opening line:
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know…”
The concept of patriotism is also very close to many Americans and the symbols of patriotism are given real weight. It is this weight that makes it quite taboo to treat these symbols with dis-respect. It may be a building or a flag or even a song. “God Bless America” is one of those objects that has acquired America’s admiration. For a period of time in the middle of the 20th century many people lobbied to have it replace “The Star Spangled Banner” as the national anthem, though they could not get this request through congress, it is still, practically, a second national anthem.
The content of Berlin’s lyrics was about the country he loved and all of the things that entailed. He exalted in the freedom and genuineness of the American peoples. Patriotic to a fault he was even proud to pay taxes. When he was advised to hide his money from the government he ignored the advice and continued to pay the amount in full every year!
Irving Berlin was presented with a chance to build himself up from nothing in the United States. He did, and now he is immortalized by his life’s work.