11th May 1888
22nd September 1989
Irving Berlin was an American composer and lyricist of Jewish heritage, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. His first hit song, "Alexander's Ragtime Band", became world famous. The song sparked an international dance craze in places as far away as Berlin's native Russia, which also "flung itself into the ragtime beat with an abandon bordering on mania." Over the years he was known for writing music and lyrics in the American vernacular: uncomplicated, simple and direct, with his aim being to "reach the heart of the average American" whom he saw as the "real soul of the country."