Irving Berlin

He is one of the greatest songwriters in American history, but did you know that “God Bless America” was written by Jewish composer Irving Berlin? The artist never made a penny from the song by his own choice. Berlin felt it was a gift to the country that he loved and that saved his life from persecution, so he donated the profits to give back to the country.

Berlin was born as Israel Baline in 1888 in Siberia, Russian Empire. With the rise of antisemitism and the destruction of their family home by a hateful mob, Berlin was only five years old when his family escaped the pogroms and arrived in the United States in 1893. The Russian immigrant family settled in the Lower East Side with nothing but hope for a better life. By 1918, Berlin was attending Camp Upton in Yaphank, NY, where he first wrote the lyrics to the American classic. It wasn’t until 1938 that “God Bless America” first hit the airwaves on The Kate Smith Hour radio show. From there, the American song gained popularity.

Berlin wrote over 1,500 songs during his decades-long career, earning him a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a star on the Walk of Fame, as well as a Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom. The musical genius embodies the American dream and has left a tremendous legacy behind. May his memory be a blessing.

Video: The Ed Sullivan Show