07 December 2009

Music: Israel Baline and 'White Christmas'

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas - or maybe Chanukah? Ever wondered about how or when the best-selling song by a nice Jewish boy was written?

The famous holiday song by Irving Berlin (AKA Israel Baline) has been analyzed by Roy J. Harris Jr. in the Wall Street Journal.

Read the story about the best-selling record ever.

It was a peaceful song that became a wartime classic. Its unorthodox, melancholy melody—and mere 54 words, expressing the simple yearning for a return to happier times—sounded instantly familiar when sung by America's favorite crooner. But 67 years after its introduction, some still are surprised to learn that Bing Crosby's recording of the Irving Berlin ballad "White Christmas" became not only the runaway smash-hit for the World War II holidays, but the best-selling record of all time.
Russian-born Berlin was 54 when the song was recorded in 1942. His hits had already included "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Blue Skies," "How Deep Is the Ocean?" and "God Bless America."

Berlin insisted Crosby sing it.

Read comments by Michael Feinstein, Jody Rosen, Philip Furia and Rob Kapilow. Learn what the song represented and how Berlin composed it.

Where and when the song was composed is a mystery - there are varying theories.

It was made famous in the movie "Holiday Inn," starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The first public performance by Crosby was on the Kraft Music Hall radio show on December 24, 1941, just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor. The record wasn't released until September.
"Songs make history, and history makes songs," Berlin told an interviewer weeks before Decca's recording, suggesting that he expected good things for "White Christmas." (He once bragged that it was not only "the best song I ever wrote, it's the best song anybody ever wrote.")
Guinness World Records says 50 million copies were sold, but albums and other sales brought it to more than 100 million.

Read about his possible inspirations, the death of his infant son, a poem by Robert Frost.

Poet Carl Sandburg is quoted in an article from December 1942:

"We have learned to be a little sad and a little lonesome, without being sickly about it. This feeling is caught in the song of a thousand juke boxes and the tune whistled in streets and homes, 'I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas.' When we sing that song we don't hate anybody. . . . Away down under, this latest hit of Irving Berlin catches us where we love peace."
Berlin died at 101 in 1989. Read the complete story at the link above.

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