By Ryan Walsh
When Irving Berlin was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1918, it was front page news all over the country. “Army Takes Berlin” the headlines read, but it wasn’t quite what you might imagine. It turns out that the Army wanted Berlin to play to his strengths, and they sent him straight to the piano to write music that would inspire a nation in crisis.
Assigned to a camp on Long Island that was primarily a wait-station for troops headed overseas, Berlin took his task seriously. Although the war was winding down, Berlin’s output was robust and steady, and he composed songs including ‘For Your Country and My Country’, ‘I’ve Got My Captain Working For Me Now’, ‘I’m Gonna Pin My Medal On the Girl I Left Behind’, and ‘Let’s All Be Americans Now.’ Although he never intended any of these songs for commercial use, many of them eventually found their way into non-military productions. Berlin’s bugle anthem ‘Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,’ for instance, was meant to literally roust soldiers out of bed in the AM, but it eventually found its way into three separate Broadway productions.
Perhaps, after some time had passed, Berlin did let the solemnity of his Army work subside; how else to exlplain the odd note on his service record that indicates he was at one point promoted to sergeant, only to be downgraded to a private again a mere four days later? In the end, there’s little arguing that Berlin’s service for his country was fruitful. Afterall, it was during those days in Long Island that Berlin first put his timeless classic “God Bless America” down on paper.
Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin runs JUL 8-26 – more information and tickets here.