Probably the most famous and most important songwriter of the twentieth century, Irving Berlin was active in the music industry for almost sixty years. He wrote over a thousand songs, including some of the most famous and successful numbers of all-time, such as ''White Christmas'' and ''God Bless America.''
Born in a poor Russian Jewish ghetto, Berlin's parents immigrated to America when he was five, settling in New York's Lower East Side. As a young boy he sang on the streets for pennies to help support his family after his father died. Though he couldn't read music he taught himself enough piano to began writing songs. He sold his first number, ''Marie of Sunny Italy,'' in 1907. In 1911 he had his first big hit with ''Alexander's Ragtime Band.'' Two years later he married his first wife, who died soon after from typhoid she had contracted on their honeymoon. He married again in 1926, and the couple remained together until her death in 1988.
In 1919 Berlin formed his own music publishing company, still in existance today. He also co-founded ASCAP. Over the years Berlin wrote dozens of plays and films. His song ''Blue Skies'' was featured in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer. He retired from Hollywood in 1957 and from Broadway in 1962.
Berlin dedicated his life to his work, not having any hobbies or past-times. Never learning to read or play music he used a special piano to help him compose. Berlin was also well-known for his patriotism and charity. He supported the war effort during both World Wars and established several foundations in his lifetime. He signed over all royalties from his song ''God Bless America'' to the Boy Scouts.