Next to our national anthem, there’s no more patriotic song than the melodic “God Bless America.”
A new picture book about the song’s creator, Irving Berlin, would make a fitting read to share as we celebrate the Fourth of July. “God Bless America, the Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin,” is a timely book about an immigrant from Russia who left us an incomparable body of music.
Prior to taking the name Irving Berlin, the boy who couldn’t even read music, Izzy Baline, hawked evening newspapers in New York City. His family “was chased out of Russia for being Jews. They joined the throngs of immigrants escaping for a better, safer life, and boarded a ship to America.” The year was 1893.
It was a terrible struggle to make ends meet, especially after Izzy’s father died, but early on Izzy made up his mind he was going to be a songwriter. Tin Pan Alley was fertile ground for him. “By the time he was twenty-six, he had written two hundred songs.”
When America fought in World War I, Berlin became a citizen so he could join the Army. While his fellow soldiers slept, he composed songs. “One was from the words his mother used to say. A song called ‘God Bless America,’” which Berlin “tucked away,” because it wasn’t right at the time for a musical he’d written for the army.
During the Depression, Americans needed a tune to lift their spirits and Berlin had just the ticket, gave them “something grand to cheer for….A loud heart melter. A song for America.” On Armistice Day, in 1938, two decades after he wrote “God Bless America,” Kate Smith preformed the heartfelt song that continues to elicit goosebumps and fill listeners’ eyes with tears.
Vintage illustrations by Rob Polivka portray the highlights of Berlin’s life, Americana-like scenes that serve as a history lesson, making this emotion-packed book an important one to share with young people – a meaningful read that reminds us are truly a nation of immigrants.