Over the last few days (and really, the last year), the issue of immigration (legal or otherwise) has made headlines across the United States, and provoked deep, emotional discussions.
For me, immigrants are central to the American experience, and have played a vital role in shaping nearly all aspects of our country’s development since the first days of the Republic—in politics, the economy, medical breakthroughs, scientific discovery, and in the success of its armed forces. America has been profoundly enriched by the contributions of immigrants for centuries.
The contributions of immigrants are particularly noteworthy in music and the arts. Again and again, artists from distant shores have relocated to the United States and found shelter, found new opportunities, and created astonishing new works that have shaped and re-shaped how we view the world.
Don’t believe me? Here is a partial playlist of great composers who immigrated to the United States, along with some of their most noteworthy works… many of which that speak to their experiences as immigrants or their connections to their new homeland. Enjoy!
Irving Berlin (U.S. citizen 1918): God Bless America. Irving Berlin’s career is one of this country’s greatest success stories. He and his family came face to face with the horrors of the state-sponsored persecution of Russian Jews when, in 1893, the family home was deliberately burned to the ground. He and his parents were forced to flee the country in the hope of finding a better existence in the United States. And they did. Berlin went on to live a long, successful life (101 years!), and built a catalog of more than 1,000 songs. He also wrote for Broadway and the movies. Among his most recognized songs are A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody, White Christmas, Blue Skies, and There’s No Business Like Show Business. In the fall of 1938, as fascism and war threatened Europe, Irving Berlin decided to write a peace song. He recalled an unpublished version of a song that he had set aside in a trunk, took it out and shaped it into a second national anthem: God Bless America.