Irving Berlin, one of the best-known songwriters of the Twentieth Century, left behind 1500 or so songs, among which are "Blue Skies," "God Bless America," "Easter Parade," "White Christmas" and "There's No Business Like Show Business," for the world to enjoy, when he died on September 22, 1989 at the mellow age of 101.
Berlin "never learned to play in any key but F sharp," according to a September 23 article in The Courier-JournalBy Marilyn Berger of The New York Times News Service. I'm sure this is amazing to many people in the field of music, that a person of limited formal education and music ability would be able to touch so many people with his songs and the scores he wrote for films and shows.
Composer Sammy Fain may have described Berlin best in ASCAP's Summer 1988 Special Issue's Irving Berlin Centennial Celebration, saying that "He had such a simple, natural way of writing. His lyrics are so singable, his melodies so plaintive." Lyricist Edward Eliscu said in the same issue that "Berlin undoubtedly struck the common chord that people respond to, especially emotionally."
So what would Berlin's chances for making it in the music business today be? Excellent, not only because he struck the common emotional chord in people, but because some of his standard songs continue to sell millions of records and continue to be popular even though trends in music continue to change.
True, the competition is greater, but it's also true that songwriting is an art and a craft. A person may be able to perform great songs and convey the feelings of the songwriter. However, when it comes to writing something original that touches a general population, sometimes the book has not been written (as in Berlin's case) and it may not depend on how much you know, but how well you convey your feelings. That's what is so unique about songwriting. Tomorrow's successful songwriter, regardless of background, may find that desire, inspiration and determination like Irvin Berlin found it, from their inner feelings, but the true art and craft is to be able to express those feelings in a simple, natural, singable way.