Israel Baline was only five, a little guy living in Tyumen, a village in Siberia. An anti-Jewish mob attacked the town, and the Baline family fled their ruined home and eventually made the long, arduous journey to New York’s Lower East Side. Just three years later, when he was eight, little Israel’s father died, and he went to work. The years marched on, and “Izzy”, as he was known, taught himself to play the piano and found he had a knack for songwriting. As he grew to manhood, he felt himself blessed to make a living from his music, but even more so, to live in freedom and safety. He served in WWI and wrote several successful patriotic songs. This of course was the Great War, the war that was to end all wars. Such was not to be the case, and in 1938, Izzy, now a successful composer in NY, found himself a visitor in Berlin as the Nazi specter began to loom large over Europe.
Remembering his childhood, he recognized the imminent danger and decided right then and there to write something special to celebrate the country that had given him a new life and hope and possibility. The song, though, wasn’t really meant to be patriotic. It was meant to be “an expression…of what home really means.” The song, quickly scribbled on a sheet of paper, debuted less than a year before Nazi tanks rolled into Poland. Many of you will know it well, this 82-year-old song – God Bless America. And what of Izzy? Well, it turns out that Izzy Baline’s name was accidentally misspelled by a music company early in his career, and the new version stuck – Irving Berlin. Little Izzy’s song raised countless thousands of dollars throughout WWII – his personal contribution to the defeat of tyranny.
Thank you, Izzy!