May your days be merry and bright

We’re a bit short on snow in my part of the world right now, which is not unusual–it’s still on the early side for the white stuff. Of course, the following song‘s rarely-performed opening verse begins “The sun is shining, the grass is green.”

“White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, sung by The Three Tenors:


Video posted by congodfather. (I think the best bit is when the children’s choir joins in.)

Or, if you prefer, a 2008 cover by Jason:


Video posted by dare2dreamJC

The song was written for the Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire vehicle Holiday Inn and became an instant classic. Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” is the best selling record of all time, the single selling at least 50 million copies; when all the various covers are taken into account, the song is estimated to have sold over 150 million copies. This despite–or perhaps because of?–the fact that it’s not so much about Christmas itself as an ideal or dream of what a Christmas should be.

[NOTE: Since the Crosby’s single was released before singles charts were a thing, I’m going by the conclusions of the researchers at the Guiness Book of World Records.]

 

Irving Berlin has no place in American music–he is American music.

–Jerome Kern

 
What can one say about the famously-Jewish Irving Berlin? Starting out desperately poor, quite literally scrambling for pennies on the streets of New York, he ended up the enormously successful songwriter of 20 Broadway shows, 17 movies, and over 1500 songs, an inordinate percentage of which became part of the American musical vernacular. And all this despite the fact that he had no formal education past age eight (he left school to help support his family) and never did learn how to read or write music–he could only play piano by ear, in one key. He was a co-founder of ASCAP, founder of his own music publishing company, and, with Sam Harris, builder of Broadway’s Music Box Theater. Among his many awards was the Congressional Medal of Honor for writing “God Bless America.”* George Gershwin called him “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived,” and, in the Kennedy Center Tribute to Irving Berlin, Walter Cronkite said

Other nations are defined by their classical composers. America, appropriately, is defined musically by this Russian immigrant.

 

Video posted by Violet Pearl

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*NOTE: All profits from “God Bless America,” by the way, go to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, and always have. Berlin wrote the song during WWI for an army revue, but didn’t use it. When Kate Smith went to him for a song to use in 1938, he pulled it from his trunk and offered it to her (with some lyric revisions), and that’s the song we know now.