Musical Showcases Works of American Legend

Dr. Harry Parker

TAHLEQUAH – One of the most influential American songwriters in history, Irving Berlin created some of the most memorable songs over more than five decades.

The life and works of Berlin will be explored during a special lecture conducted by Dr. Harry Parker, chair of the Texas Christian University department of Theatre, at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 9 at the Northeastern State University Jazz Lab.

The free lecture is held in conjunction with the production of “Irving Berlin’s I Love A Piano,” the second show in the 23rd Annual Galaxy of Stars Series hosted by NSU’s Sequoyah Institute. “I Love A Piano,” set for 7:30 p.m. at the NSU Center for the Performing Arts, is sponsored by Go Ye Village.

I Love a Piano” is built around the songs of Irving Berlin, who, in a career spanning well over five decades, composed over 1,000 songs.

An Eastern European immigrant, Berlin was born Israel Isidore Baline on May 11, 1888 to a Jewish family in Russia. His family traveled to the United States in 1893 to escape persecution.

After the death of his father, Berlin began working various street jobs to support his family, including selling newspapers and doing street performances. He began his career singing for pennies on the streets of New York's Lower East Side in 1901 at the age of 13.

While working as a singing waiter at a café in Chinatown, Berlin was asked to write an original song to promote the establishment. “Marie from Sunny Italy,” earned him only 37 cents, but it opened a new career and gave him a new name – his name was misprinted on the music sheet as I. Berlin.

A self-taught pianist, Berlin went on to create a legacy in American music, with such famous works as “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “White Christmas,” “Anything You Can Do,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “God Bless America.” In 1968, Berlin was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

He lent his talents to the World War II efforts, creating new patriotic songs like “Any Bonds Today?” and donating proceeds to the U.S. Army, and entertaining troops with a road company. He was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Harry S. Truman in recognition of his contributions to troop morale.

A political conservative, Berlin also supported the presidential candidacy of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and his song “I Like Ike” was featured prominently during the campaign.

Berlin was married twice, first to singer Dorothy Goetz, who died five months after their wedding in 1912, and later to Ellin Mackay, a devout Irish-American Catholic, heiress to the Comstock Lode mining fortune and writer. He died on Sept. 22, 1989 at the age of 101.

It is no exaggeration to say that more than any other writer of popular songs — more than Gershwin, more than Porter, more than Coleman, Styne or Loesser — Berlin wrote the American songbook.

Tickets for “Irving Berlin’s I Love A Piano” are $20 for adults, $18 for NSU alumni, $16 for NSU employees, $14 for senior citizens, $12 for groups of 10 or more, $10 for students and children, and $5 for NSU students. To purchase tickets, contact the NSU Box Office at (918) 458-2075.

Additional funding for the 23rd Annual Galaxy of Stars Series is provided by the Oklahoma Arts Council, the Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information on the Sequoyah Institute’s 23rd Annual Galaxy of Stars Series, visit www.nsuok.edu/si.

10/2/2008

 
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