Famous Freemason: Irving Berlin

January 26, 2024

Christmas music can often be an earworm that you can’t get out of your head. After two straight months of the music, hopefully a month after Christmas it’s left your head, but did you know that White Christmas’s writer was a Freemason? Today we’re showcasing Famous Freemason, Bro. Irving Berlin!

Bro. Berlin was born Israel Beilin in Russia on May 11, 1888. He grew up in poverty during the Russian pogroms against the Jewish community. His only memory of Russia was lying down in the street and watching his family’s home burn. To escape the pogroms, his family traveled through Europe and boarded a ship to the United States. On September 14, 1893, when Irving was 5, they arrived at Ellis Island and Americanized their name to Baline, and settled down in New York. However, his family was still living in poverty and every kid needed to chip in. At 13 he dropped out of school yet by 14 he was already trying to start a music career by singing in restaurants and for department stores to advertise their new music compositions. However, this earned him little money so he ran away from home to the Bowery section of the Lower East Side.

While there he continued to refine his musical prowess. He served drinks and sang to earn a living while he taught himself piano. At the age of 19, he published his first song “Marie from Sunny Italy” under the name “I. Berlin”. Soon after publishing this song, he was hired by Harry Von Tilzer then the Ted Snyder Company, and quickly became known as a lyricist. Bro. Berlin would write the lyrics to other composer’s underlying melodies. Also around this time, Irving joined the craft at 22 in 1910 and he took his 3° on June 3 at Munn Lodge No. 190. By the end of the year, he became a 32° Mason across the river in New Jersey. A few months later in 1911, Bro. Berlin joined Mecca Shrine Temple but became a life member decades later in 1936.

Although Bro. Berlin was a growing star he still didn’t have a hit. In 1911, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was introduced to initially poor reviews, but when he added lyrics to it the song became an overnight sensation. Throughout the years it would reach the top of the chart for Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ray Charles, and many more singers. He married his first wife Dorothy Goetz in February of 1912, she contracted typhoid fever on their honeymoon and passed away in July. Needing an outlet to express his emotion, Bro. Berlin wrote “When I Lost You” for her and continued writing ballads after it.

The 1910s were a decade defined by World War I. When the United States entered the war in 1917 Bro. Berlin wrote songs patriotic and inspirational songs to unify the nation. He was quickly drafted but the army had him compose a show instead of go to the front lines. The revue titled “Yip Yip Yaphank” had an assortment of songs, but “God Bless America” was cut from it and shelved.

With the war over, Berlin continued to compose pieces and quickly found his second love, Ellin Mackay. Their relationship was covered extensively by the news because she was Christian and he was Jewish, and her father rejected their relationship. Her father sent her to Europe to find a suitor for her, but the couple wrote every day, and Bro. Berlin composed “Remember” and “All Alone” for her. When she returned, they eloped and she was disowned by her father. To give her financial support, Irving gave her the rights to the wedding song “Always”. They had four children throughout their relationship, with their second born passing away in infancy on Christmas 1928. This tragedy caused Mackay’s father to reconnect with her.

As the Great Depression came to a close in 1938 radio star Kate Smith came to Irving asking for a song to mark the twentieth anniversary of Armistice Day. “God Bless America”, which was still shelved, was a perfect fit. To Bro. Berlin, the song was meant as a thank you to the United States for taking him in and allowing him to be successful. As we know, “God Bless America” has resonated with our country since its first performance. Bro. Berlin was granted the Congressional Gold Medal for the song. He assigned the royalties for several of his songs to organizations to help disadvantaged youth, but “God Bless America” was assigned to the Boys and Girls Scouts to support their missions.

Bro. Berlin left a life like no other. He wrote an estimated 1500 songs and defined American music. In a tribute to him, Walter Cronkite called him the American Beethoven. After World War II he retired from songwriting and public life. He passed away at 101 years old.

There’s so much more that we couldn’t cover in this article. To read more, click the link below!

Share this on:

Search Article
Subscribe to be notified

Enter your email to be notified of the latest news.

The Rite Times

Related Links

Copyright All Rights Reserved © 2023