Irving Berlin was an American composer and lyricist of Russian-Jewish origin. Widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history, his music forms a great part of The Great American Songbook. He published his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy", in 1907 and had his first major international hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in 1911. He also was an owner of the Broadway theater the Music Box Theatre.
"Alexander's Ragtime Band" sparked an international dance craze in places as far away as Berlin's native Russia, which also "flung itself into the ragtime beat with an abandon bordering on mania." Over the years he was known for writing music and lyrics in the American vernacular: uncomplicated, simple and direct, with his stated aim being to "reach the heart of the average American," whom he saw as the "real soul of the country." In doing so, said Walter Cronkite, at Berlin's 100th birthday tribute, he "helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives."
He wrote hundreds of songs, many becoming major hits, which made him "a legend" before he turned thirty.