Izzy Baline published his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy,” when he was 19 years old and working as a singing waiter in a Chinatown restaurant. During a career spanning more than eighty years he wrote thousands of songs; he published 812 of them, and 451 of those became hits.
During his most productive years Izzy wrote a song a day. One critic even called him a writing machine. It must be remembered, however, that he usually did not write his songs in a day; he just finished them. His songs had gestation periods of months or even years.
Izzy wrote many of his songs for the Broadway stage and for motion pictures. Some of his best-known songs are “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “A Pretty Girl is like a Melody,” “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “God Bless America.”
His songs were performed in the movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, among others, and Al Jolson sang “Blue Skies” in The Jazz Singer (1927), the first “talking picture.”
Izzy completed his most famous song, “White Christmas,” on January 8, 1940, and Bing Crosby introduced it to the world in Holiday Inn (1942), for which it won the academy award for Best Song.
Reportedly, Izzy began composing the song during a five-year stay in sunny southern California, where he was working on films, and finished it after returning to New York. Some of the many artists—besides Crosby—who recorded “White Christmas” include Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson, Fats Domino, and Michael Bolton.
More than 30 million copies of “White Christmas,” composed by a Russian-born Jew named Izzy Baline, have been sold worldwide. But Izzy Baline is not the name under which he published his music. Professionally, he used a different name, one he adopted when very young. We know him as Irving Berlin.