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December 26, 2003 - Image 68

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-26

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An American Song

Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin wrote a "national
anthem" for an (American holiday."

better, but White Christmas' does
some of the most fascinating tales
Special to the Jewish News
to go with it," says Rosen, who spent
four years planning the book and near-
omposer Irving Berlin was
ly^two writing it. "On a personal basis,
glad to make lots of money
I can relate some of those tales to the
from more than 500 differ-
ent recordings of his endur- ways in which my Jewish grandparents
got a new identity in America."
ing song "White Christmas," but he
The song, of course, gained its
didn't want anyone to hear the version
by Elvis Presley.
popularity shortly after America's
The circumstances surrounding that entrance into World War II.
- "The celebration of the American
attitude and the composer's actions to
get the recording off the
Christmas — that magically
airwaves are revealed in
sanctified and ostentatiously
irreligious holiday —
Jody Rosen's White
became a kind of patriotic
Christmas: The Story of
an American Song
act," writes Rosen. 'A few
(Scribner's; $24). The
prominent Jewish rabbis
even advocated Jews keep-
author, fascinated by the
popularity of the often- -
ing Christmas; not coinci-
dentally, it was during this
played number, has lots
same period that Chanukah,
of anecdotes about the
a relatively minor holiday
hit and the Jewish
on the Jewish calendar,
immigrant who wrote it.
gained the status of the
Rosen, a freelance
ewish Christmas,' an effort
entertainment writer,
interviewed two of the
just not to preserve a dis-
Secular Christmas
three Berlin daughters
tinctive Jewish identity but
tunes weren't part of hitch together the two festi-
and searched musical
archives to come up with popular music culture vals in a display of the
until Irving Berlin
his text. He thought the
nation's cultural oneness. ...
success of a Jewish com-
"The 'national anthem'
for the newly consecrated
poser writing a Christmas Christmas," says
author Jody Rosen.
song provided a colorful
national holiday was, of
example of immigrant
course, Berlin's song."
Rosen's book covers the
assimilation in America during the first
meaning of Christmas to Berlin, who
half of the 20th century.
"-White Christmas," the most record- was both the son of an Orthodox can-
tor and husband of a Christian
ed yuletide song of all time, was writ-
ten for the film Holiday Inn, released in woman. It describes the song as an
inspiration for nativity-free carols and
1942, the year Berlin appearecrin
holiday movies, such as Its a
Detroit as part of the touring revue
Wondeifill Life.
This Is the As
One of the anecdotes
The book, which covers Berlin's
in the book describes how Berlin
early years in New York and his later
decided to take out the introductory
years in Hollywood, reveals a sad
"Beverly Hills, L.A." verse from the
Christmas for the composer's family
sheet music after noticing his audi-
long before the song was written. On
ence's discomfort with the verse at an
Christmas day in 1928, Berlin's new-
impromptu performance of his
Christmas hit for the Motor City press. both son died of heart failure.
Happier segments of the book
Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby
touch upon other Berlin songs, from
and Marjorie Reynolds, brought Berlin
"God Bless America" to "Blue Skies,"
an Academy Award for Best Song of
the Year. "White Christmas" went on to and the celebrities who sung them.
"I think it's important to listen to old
be sung by Crosby in Blue Skies, filmed
in 1946, and its namesake movie White music in its historical context," Rosen
says. "I hope I've given people that
Christmas, filmed in 1954.
opportunity with 'White Christmas.'"
"There are Irving Berlin songs I like





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