“There’s No Business Like Show Business” is one of Irving Berlin’s many hit songs. The songwriter, who lived to be 101, might not be recognized by everyone, but when they hear his music, most Americans are likely to sing along. On March 22nd, Associate Professor of Theatre and Film John Koshel led an audience of students, faculty and visitors through Berlin’s career in a lecture filled with movie and music clips that highlighted Berlin’s more than 50 years of songwriting.
After applying to be one of 55 sites in the U.S. to host the traveling exhibit, “A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, 1910-1965,” LIU Post was selected to show parts of the nonprofit organization’s initiative by Nextbook, Inc. “I am so happy with the involvement from students and the community,” said Manju Prasad-Rao, the head of the Instructional Media Center and Coordinator for Exhibits in the Library, After Professor Koshel’s presentation, seven vocalists from the LIU music department performed a selection of Berlin´s songs, accompanied by Professor of Advanced Theory and Piano Richard Iacona.
With hits including, “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Irving Berlin went down in history as one of the most popular American songwriters of all time. He was born in Russia but emigrated to the U.S. with his family after a house fire and settled in New York. At 14 years old, he ran away from home and got a job escorting a blind bar singer from one venue to another in Chinatown. Later, he became one of the top contributors in the music business by presenting one hit song after another throughout his 50 years of writing and composing.
“His songs are very sing-able,” said Professor Koshel, underscoring his statement by encouraging the crowd to sing along. Koshel described Berlin’s development with the changing technological times, starting with long tones at the time of no microphones in early 20th century and adapting to shorter words and an “as-we-speak” style of songwriting when the technology emerged.
Along with adapting to changes in the technological world, Berlin’s songs also work as an illustration of his lifetime. The composer made songs for both Christmas and Easter. His love for music started in his early years, during bar mitzvahs and holiday fun.
Along with an ear for music, he had an eye for business: Berlin retained the rights for his music and started his own publishing company. His songs, which he developed without ever being taught music, were played only on the piano black keys and were created during late-night and early morning hours. They were written towards “the mob,” or the ordinary people. Berlin liked to see them as “the ones who were always right,” Professor Koshel explained.
The lecture in the Hillwood Commons Lecture Hall attracted a crowd of students, faculty and visitors interested in paying a tribute to Berlin. The nearly hour and a half lecture and performance included important points of his career explained by Professor Kosher, along with clips from a couple of his famous songs, such as “Annie Get Your Gun,” “He Ain’t Got Rhythm,” and “Blue Skies”; It concluded with performances by Post students.
“It was really enjoyable,” said junior Psychology major Andrea Sieban. “It’s the kind of music we don’t hear too much, but I thought it had a good substance, and it was a nice experience.”
“A Fine Romance” continues with lectures and exhibitions, including a display of original movie posters from the LIU B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library’s Special Collections Departments and drawings and sketches by artist-in-residence at LIU Post Dan Christoffel. It is open Tuesday -Saturday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and it ends on April 12th in the Library’s Hutchins Gallery at 12:30 p.m. A full schedule of events can be found at http://www2.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/exhibits/jewishsongwriters/html/exhibit_events.html.