Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Irving Berlin

It's the anniversary of Irving Berlin's birth today. I got told off for calling it his 'birthday' this morning. Yeah, OK, he's dead. But it's still the 'day of his birth', no?
Anyway, he's one of the great songwriters. I'm talking properly great, here. Definitely one of the top five songwriters of all time, and arguably the first writer of pop songs. (I have an elaborate theory, which I'll bore you with some day, that says the very first pop song was 'Alexander's Ragtime Band', written by Irving Berlin in 1911.)
He's the man who wrote the words and the music to: White Christmas, Cheek to Cheek, Let's Face the Music and Dance, and many, many others.
You know what I like about him? He was one of New York and Hollywood's most prolific and successful songwriters, but he could only play the piano on the black notes. He even invented a special piano with a giant lever to transpose the black notes so whatever tune he was writing wouldn't out of his vocal range.
In fact, if you sit at a piano and hit any random series of black notes, pretty soon you'll be playing an Irving Berlin tune.

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