In the fall of 1893, five-year-old Irving Berlin, his parents, and his siblings arrived in Ellis Island, having embarked on a treacherous, weeks-long voyage to escape the persecution and poverty of the Russian Empire.
The Berlin Family settled in a Manhattan tenement and made a point of adapting to their new country--and, through ample hard work, securing a brighter future. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Irving was eight years old, as his father passed away suddenly.
And so, with just three years of formal schooling to his credit, the young boy set out to support his mother and siblings by delivering newspapers. During this time, performers' songs reached Irving through the open doors of bars and restaurants; discovering his love and passion for music, he would occasionally sing along, and every so often, passersby would provide him with small-but-meaningful tips.
Some years and an abundance of practice later, the same Irving Berlin who arrived in the United States penniless, who left school at 13, and who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds time and time again, emerged as one of the world's foremost songwriters. Berlin's rise epitomized the American dream, and though he passed away in 1989, his influence--and his music--holds strong today.
Berlin penned an estimated 1,500 songs during his 101 years on Earth, including hits such as "Always,""Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)," and "White Christmas." However, the most endearing and significant of his works, "God Bless America," has been a fixture of American music, culture, and patriotism for nearly a century.
The decidedly special song has a remarkable history, which began not in 1938, when Kate Smith first performed it on the radio, but two decades earlier, during the tail end of World War I.
Stay tuned as Part II will be delivered next week.