Irving Berlin and the Creation of Popular American Culture (This Week in Jewish History)

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At this time of year it’s impossible to escape the ubiquitous holiday music that assults us whenever we turn on the radio or walk through a shopping mall. Few listeners are aware, however, that the syrupy, commercialized versions of holiday cheer have their origins in the musical genius of a Jewish immigrant from Siberia, the phenomenal Irving Berlin. Whatever we may think of the 21st century interpretations of his work, it is undeniable that Berlin had the amazing ability to express the core values of American culture in a way that transcended religious ideology.


Here’s some additional useful comments from Dr. Carl Singer:

His actions were acknowledged with such accolades as the Army’s Medal of Merit from President Truman in 1945; a Congressional Gold Medal for “God Bless America” and other patriotic songs from President Eisenhower in 1954; and the Freedom Medal from President Ford in 1977. In 2002, the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, named the Army Entertainment Division (AED) World Headquarters “The Irving Berlin Center” in his honor. Also that year he was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.
Irving Berlin “God Bless America” – The Ed Sullivan Show   God Bless America     Irving Berlin on Ed Sullivan May 5, 1968
Irving Berlin – ‘Oh, How I Hate to get up in the Morning’   Oh how I hate to get up in the morning  1943  “this is the Army”
Kate Smith, God Bless America        Kate Smith – God Bless America  introducing “a new song”
I believe there was a slight error towards the end of the presentation:  “Congressional Medal of Honor” — is likely a misnomer.  To the best of my knowledge there is no such medal.
There is the Congressional Gold Medal.   The “Medal of Honor” (no “Congressional“) is the nation’s highest military award.

2 thoughts on “Irving Berlin and the Creation of Popular American Culture (This Week in Jewish History)

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  1. Really enjoyed this brief lecture and wish more people truly appreciated the many outstanding contributions of Jews to America and the world as a whole!

  2. I hope to receive some feed back to educate me about a mystery. I asked why Jews will not use the three letter word we describe as our supreme spiritual being. I was informed that this name shall never be mentioned as a manner of respect.
    OK. I fail to understand this but I can respect it.
    Recently in one of the posts there was a discussion of the re-discovery of a really old, beautiful text found in Egypt. There was a comment on the notes describing the “music.”
    While Christianity has developed some beautiful liturgical music over the past 500 years, Jewish liturgical music simply does not exist.
    How is it that there are so many wonderful Jewish musicians and composers and the liturgical music sucks so bad? Is it some form of ‘respect’ not to have beautiful music?

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