Thursday, March 22, 2007
To most people, Easter is about Easter baskets. Children look forward to receiving a chocolate Easter gift, and even newborns may get a baby Easter basket. At least as a secular holiday, Easter is not nearly as big as Christmas. Unlike Christmas, we don’t have a lot of secular songs that are associated with Easter, nor does the holiday have a movie like It’s A Wonderful Life. Two songs do come to mind, however, and they’re both written by the same person. One is Happy Easter, and the other is Easter Parade. Both are from the same 1948 Hollywood musical, and both were written by the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, who is known as Irving Berlin.

Irving Berlin is also known for God Bless America and White Christmas as well as Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Blue Skies and Puttin’ On The Ritz, to name but a few of the 3,000 songs he penned over the course of his 101-year lifetime.

Berlin started life as Israel Baline. Born to Rabbi Moses Baline and his wife Leah in a small Russian village in 1888, the family fled that country in 1891 to escape the frequent pogroms and persecutions suffered by the Ashkenazi Jews. In New York, Rabbi Baline went to work certifying kosher meat. When his father died in 1896, eight-year-old Israel wound up having to go to work in order to survive. It was some years later while working as a singing waiter that his first song, Marie From Sunny Italy started him on his songwriting career. It also resulted in a name change; on the published sheet music, I. Baline was misprinted as I.Berlin.

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Irving Berlin was almost sixty years old when he penned the score for MGM’s Easter Parade in the late 1940’s. The film was set to star Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. Just before production was to begin, Gene Kelly suffered an injury and Cyd Charisse backed out. Fred Astaire was coaxed out of “retirement” and a new face, Ann Miller, was cast to replace Charisse. The cast also included Peter Lawford, who would go on to become one of the “Ratpack” that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop.

The plot of Easter Parade is nothing remarkable. The music on the other hand won an Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical as well as a Writer’s Guild of America Award. is packed with numerous Berlin’s songs that represent some of his best work – several of which were written especially for the film.

Perhaps the significance of Easter Parade – aside from its Easter related songs – is that new, brilliant, creative work can be produced by people of any age, not just young “up-and-comers.” Considering that Easter is about renewal and new beginnings, that’s something to think about.

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posted by Dave Richards at Thursday, March 22, 2007 ¤ Permalink ¤