Making Music ... And A Difference
Irving Berlin's I Love A Piano To Raise Funds For Bristol Ministry Mall
By Tom Netherland | Special to the Herald Courier | March 02, 2009*** This story was published: March 1, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Timeless. Irving Berlin wrote the soundtrack of the lives of generations of Americans.
That most certainly includes Peggy Rogers. Write it down. There's no bigger fan of songwriter Irving Berlin than Rogers. Well, certainly not in Bristol.
She and 34 fellow members of the Blue Stocking Club will present Berlin's "I Love A Piano" at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tenn., on March 8, 2009.
"It's an off-Broadway show," said Mary Lynn Satterwhite of the Blue Stocking Club. "They do 60 of Irving Berlin's most popular tunes."
In keeping with the club's charitable mission, proceeds after costs will benefit the Bristol Ministry Mall.
Formed in 1920, the Blue Stocking Club has long volunteered time and raised money to help those in need within the community.
"All 35 of us work at Bristol Faith in Action," Satterwhite said. "As few as we are, it shows people can make an impact."
Impact. Berlin sure made one. "In popular music," Peggy Rogers said, "I think he's number one."
Now that's obvious to anyone who knows the affable Rogers, who was a longtime educator in Bristol.
A few days ago, a trove of Berlin treasures from Rogers' collection covered her dining room table. There were newspaper articles, photographs and a stack of sheet music including original copies of "White Christmas" and "God Bless America." Best of all, an autographed letter to Rogers from Berlin, dated June 22, 1973.
Though born in Russia, from about age 5, Berlin made his home in New York City. Though, more accurately, he made his home in the homes of Americans.
"[Music is] the universal language," Rogers said.
And if so, then Berlin wrote the dictionary. His were songs written as if directly in tune with the hearts and minds of Americans of the 20th century, songs that, thanks to their timeless quality, remain as fresh today as when they flowed from the tip of his pen.
"He said, "I write from the heart, not from the head,' " Rogers said. "He could express our feelings, the words we wanted to say but could not say."
To wit, Berlin's two-minute monuments include "Blue Skies," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Puttin' on the Ritz" and most famously "White Christmas" and "God Bless America."
Rogers remembers when those songs were new, including her favorite, "God Bless America." "I was in elementary school in 1938. I went to Anderson Elementary School when I learned "God Bless America,' " she said. "That song was on the radio, in the schools and in the churches. It was everywhere."
And now Berlin's "God Bless America" befits the Blue Stocking Club's benefit show in an aspect beyond the song itself. He could have made a king's fortune on the song. Indeed, a king's fortune has come from the song. And yet ...
"He never made a penny from "God Bless America,' " Rogers said. "I saw him on "The Ed Sullivan Show' when he celebrated his 80th birthday. [Sullivan asked Berlin about the song.] Irving said, "This country has given me a home, and I have given it a song,' " Rogers said. "All of the proceeds have gone and still go to the Boy Scouts of America."
It's fitting then that a show of Berlin's music will help generate funds that will in turn aid people in need in the Bristol area. Mark it down as another in a long line of good deeds done by the Blue Stocking Club.
"It's very gratifying," Satterwhite said.
One look at the warm smile of Peggy Rogers on a warm Thursday afternoon sure seconded that.
Born: May 11, 1888
Died: Sept. 22, 1989
Songs: "God Bless America," "White Christmas," "Easter Parade," "Puttin on the Ritz," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Blue Skies," "Always" and "Steppin' Out With My Baby"
Wrote: 21 Broadway and 17 feature film scores
Quote: "Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He IS American music." – Songwriter Jerome Kern
IF YOU GO
What: The Blue Stocking Club presents Irving Berlin's "I Love A Piano"
When: March 8, 3 p.m.
Where: Paramount Center for the Arts, 518 State St., Bristol, Tenn.
Admission: $35 for reserved seats, $100 for patron tickets, which includes preferred seating and an invitation to a post-performance party.
Info: (423) 274-8920
Audio of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America": http://www.coutant.org/smith.html (scroll to the bottom of the page for the link)