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It was truly a “ragtime to riches” path chosen by the immigrant Russian Jew Israel Baline. A teenaged waif slumming an existence in the Bowery during the earliest years of the twentieth-century, Irving Berlin, as he was later known, began writing songs before he knew how to read music. A self-taught and rather pathetic pianist, he morphed into a genuine musical icon by the age of 23 and remained the standard bearer for all songwriters until his death at the age of 101. Perhaps Jerome Kern describes it most succinctly: “Irving Berlin has no ‘place’ in American music—Irving Berlin IS American music.”

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