most of our Christmas songs? The Scots? Brits from London? Germans from Bavaria? Those would have been my first three guesses.
After singing in the shower one day, I began to research the composers of individual songs.
And discovered that the most of them were written by Russian Jewish immigrants escaping persecution in their homeland. From the songs in the Wizard of Oz, to God Bless America, to Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire, to Annie Get Your Gun; many of the classic songs we sing or enjoy, is due to their resilience, wit and creativity.
Beyond the enjoyment, consider the economic impact over the last hundred years, of just three composers: Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Aaron Copland. From concerts, tourism, instrument sales, radio, television, record sales, Broadway, it must be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Curious if I was the only one noticing this, I searched sources on American history. My good luck was to find Jamie Katz’s well-researched article in Jewish Songwriters, American Songs in the October 6, 2009, Smithsonian Magazine.
One telling quote exploring this connection from Jamie Katz:
“In 1939 you get The Wizard of Oz, a fantasy about this magical land over the rainbow, on the other side of the Depression. With Oklahoma! in 1943, at the height of the war, when the chorus picks up Curly’s refrain—We know we belong to the land / And the land we belong to is grand!—you feel this great surge of patriotism. “God Bless America” made its debut on the radio with Kate Smith on November 11, 1938, exactly 20 years after the armistice ending World War I. And it was the same day that people read the newspapers about the terrible pogrom known as Kristallnacht in Germany and Austria. While the two had no direct relation, it’s impossible to see the two facts as entirely unconnected. Irving Berlin created a song that people authentically like and turn to in time of crisis, as in the days after 9/11/01. The Nazis did battle not only with tanks and well-trained soldiers and the Luftwaffe. They also had a cultural ideology, and we needed something for our side to fight back. That song was one way that we fought back.”
Then I thought, coming out of abject poverty to success, they must have lessons beyond their art – for entrepreneurs. In my next blogpost – I present five from Irving Berlin: