Cover image for Irving Berlin : American troubadour
Irving Berlin : American troubadour
Jablonski, Edward.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt, 1999.
Physical Description:
viii, 406 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.B499 J33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
ML410.B499 J33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
ML410.B499 J33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Although he could play piano in only one key--F-sharp--and never learned to read music, or to transcribe it, Irving Berlin published some eight hundred songs, dozens of them part of the enduring body of Broadway lore. Berlin was born in Russia in 1888, four years before his family emigrated to America and settled in New York City. His teenage years were spent working as a busker and singing waiter in the flamboyantly disreputable Bowery bars. Berlin published his first song in 1911. A prolific combination of genius and schmaltz, he would go on to compose some of the most popular songs--"White Christmas," "Easter Parade," "God Bless America"--and stage and screen musicals--There's No Business Like Show Business, Top Hat, Annie Get Your Gun--the stifling darkness of oppression, the greed of the ruling classes. For the world's elite, the near-universal adoption of capitalism today reveals history as a narrative of unbroken progress.

Avoiding conventional chronological accounts, The Twentieth Century is organized around the major themes of the last hundred years. To help us understand our recent past and probable future, Clive Ponting offers a "world systems" theory: A few core states have dominated much of the rest of the world, which provides raw materials and cheap labor, and remains tied to the core as virtual colonial territory. Between these extremes are Latin America, the Middle East, and eastern Asia, whose people have only a limited shot at self-determination as economic, social, and political differences between the core and periphery continue to grow.

The book's central theme revolves around the struggle between progress and barbarism; the hope for our future is that "our conscience will catch up with our reason." On the eve of the millennium this vivid history of the century is a must-read.

Author Notes

Edward Jablonski is the author of numerous books on American musical theater, including Gershwin: A Biography, Alan Jay Lerner: A Biography, and Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues: The Life and Music of Harold Arlen. He won a special ASCAP award in 1985 for his contributions to the literature of American popular music. He lives in New York City.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

With books on George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Alan Jay Lerner under his belt, Jablonski only does what comes naturally in writing about the grand master of American songwriters. Like Laurence Bergreen (As Thousands Cheer, 1990) before him, he depends on others' accounts of Berlin pretty heavily, though with a skeptical eye when his source is, say, Alexander Woollcott, who was known to color things. Initially, Jablonski strives to re-create what immigration from Russia during a time of pogroms was like for then six-year-old Berlin. The measure of his success is that the book's early pages, which also reconstruct Berlin's adolescence, from leaving home at 13 to publishing his first song at 19, are engrossing. After that, fortunately for Jablonski, Berlin's career and that of the American musical are virtually identical, so when the book settles down to the routine of one Berlin show after another, a lot of gaudy history is at hand to be made into context. Highly readable, including the complete song list (see how many you can hum). --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

JablonskiÄbiographer of the Gershwins, Harold Arlen and Alan Jay LernerÄhas written a vibrant, royally entertaining, song-drenched biography of Irving Berlin. Jablonski fleshes out the familiar saga of elementary school dropout Izzy (Israel) Baline's metamorphosis from singing waiter in Manhattan's Chinatown to fabulously wealthy, endlessly prolific songwriter, Broadway producer, Algonquin Round Table wit and creator of such classics as "White Christmas," "God Bless America" and "There's No Business like Show Business." Chock-full of little-known Berlin lyrics, peppered with gemlike anecdotes and cameos of George M. Cohan, Victor Herbert, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, the Marx Brothers, George Gershwin and many others, this whirlwind portrait cuts a broad swath through the history of Broadway musical theater, Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood. Jablonski doesn't disguise his enthusiasm for his subject, though his preferences are debatable. He ranks Berlin's score for the 1940 show Louisiana Purchase (inspired by Senator Huey Long's antics) as a very close second to that for Annie Get Your Gun, and is at pains to defend the corny Mr. President (1962). Although Berlin (who died in 1989 at age 101) is portrayed as a kindly, edgy, astute lifelong insomniac and less reclusive in his later years than critics contend, the inner man remains somewhat elusive. Jablonski, who interviewed Berlin, has produced a labor of love, a moving tribute to a streetwise Broadway bard who seemingly instinctively created great popular art. Valuable appendixes include a year-by-year compilation of all of Berlin's songs, an annotated discography and films on videocassette. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Jablonski, the author of biographies of several greats of American popular music (Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues, LJ 6/1/96; Alan Jay Lerner, LJ 2/15/96; Gershwin, LJ 9/15/87), offers this new look at perhaps the most "American" of composers, Irving Berlin. Jablonski draws here on his many years of experience in the music world with Berlin's contemporaries and with Berlin himself (though little of this shows in the text). He covers much the same ground as Philip Furia did in his recent Irving Berlin: A Life in Song (LJ 12/98), which, like Jablonski's book, draws material from previous Berlin biographies. Furia has good illustrations and presents perhaps a bit more musical analysis in a work emphasizing Berlin's movie musicals, but both writers are good storytellers who recount Berlin's life from a contemporary perspective. Both books are recommended, but only large music collections will want both.ÄJames E. Ross, WLN, Seattle (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Jablonski's biography arrives hard on the heels of Philip Furia's Irving Berlin: A Life in Song (CH, May'99). An excellent writer, Jablonski (Univ. of Vermont) has a lengthy list of publications, including several musical theater biographies--e.g., (George) Gershwin (CH, Mar'88), Alan Jay Lerner (CH, Jul'96), and Harold Arlen (CH, Nov'96). He also knew Irving Berlin personally, but that fact does not interfere with the narrative. Like Laurence Bergreen's As Thousands Cheer (CH, Jan'91), this biography provides a comprehensive treatment of Berlin's life and musical achievement, ranging from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway shows and Hollywood films (Furia focuses on Berlin's works). Since Jablonski presents a much more sympathetic view of the composer than does Bergreen--one can read accounts of the same event in each book and come away with a different impression--both works remain valuable sources for understanding Irving Berlin. Jablonski includes two sections of photographs and, at the end, a list of Berlin's songs and sound and video recordings, acknowledgments, and a description of sources used for each chapter (in the place of notes). This new biography merits a place next to Bergreen in all library collections. R. D. Johnson SUNY College at Oneonta

Table of Contents

Prelude: Golden Shorep. 3
1 The Bow'ryp. 18
2 Wandering Minstrelp. 40
3 Up and Down Broadwayp. 61
4 This is the Army, Mr. Bp. 75
5 The Music Boxesp. 84
6 Facing the Musicp. 105
7 Cross-Country Traumap. 135
8 Comebackp. 148
9 New Dealp. 167
10 Twice in a Lifetimep. 197
11 Old-Fashioned Smashp. 230
12 There's No Businessp. 247
13 Gray Skiesp. 273
14 Swan Songs?p. 288
Coda: A Hundred and Onep. 316
Appendixp. 335
1. The Songs of Irving berlinp. 335
2. Representative Recordingsp. 362
3. Irving Berlin Films on Videocassettep. 367
Sourcesp. 371
Bibliographyp. 377
Acknowledgmentsp. 379
Indexp. 383