Irving Berlin White Christmas Program Notes
Irving Berlin’s family was one of the thousands that fled Russia’s pogroms, arriving to New York’s lower East side tenements in the 1890s. In 1896, he had to start earning an income on the death of his father, and sold newspapers, then singing in bars. He left home for the Union Square and Bowery portion of Manhattan, teaching himself piano after-hours. His first published song, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, met with great success, as did Blue Skies, Puttin’ on the Ritz, and many of the approximately 1,500 songs he wrote over his sixty years as an active songwriter. White Christmas became one of the most popular songs (recorded and performed) in history, part of the 1942 black-and-white movie “Holiday Inn,” remade in 1954 as “White Christmas,” and set in California. This version includes the original opening:
“The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway; There’s never been such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A. But it’s December the twenty-fourth, and I am longing to be up north…”
One story about the song’s first recording (and its most familiar), is that Bing Crosby recorded it in two takes, then went off to play golf.
Born: May 23, 1888, Russia
Died: September 22, 1989, New York, New York