Among the many immigrants arriving in New York Harbor in 1893 were the members of the Baline family. And among the six Baline children was five-year-old Israel, soon to be nicknamed Izzy. He was destined to become one of America’s greatest songwriters. When Izzy was thirteen, his father died, and Izzy dropped out of school and began to earn money by singing. Soon, he wrote the words to his first song, signing the music with his new American name — I. Berlin. He would ultimately write 1,500 songs during his lifetime.
How a poor boy who could not read or write music grew up to be recognized as a musical genius cannot be explained. But having an innate talent was not enough — he also had an endless capacity to work and a fierce desire to improve. His lyrics, such as those for “God Bless America,” doubtless his best-known song, are memorable because they honestly express the passionate love he had for his adopted country.
The softly colored and expressive illustrations of Berlin, from childhood to old age, show an eternally optimistic and hardworking man, delighted with his family, his country, and the good fortune he found. An author’s note includes other interesting facts: for example, Berlin received the Medal of Merit from President Harry S. Truman and the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Berlin’s favorite songs as well as suggestions for further reading are also included.
Susan Kantor was a senior writer/editor for Girl Scouts of the USA, a children’s book editor, and a past judge for the National Jewish Book Awards in the illustrated children’s book category. She is a writer and a docent at the Rubin Museum in New York City, where she leads public and private tours.