Irving Berline, Benjamin Sears, Readers on American Music Series, OUP
Noted performer and music historian, Benjamin Sears has an unprecedented familiarity with both Irving Berlin's work and the writings about him, much of which he has brought together in the new, The Irving Berlin Reader, part of the Readers on American Music Series from Oxford University Press, available in stores on April 6, 2012.
Irving Berlin was, and continues to be, one of the most influential figures in the twentieth century of American music and popular culture. He worked in Tin Pan Alley, on Broadway, and was a pioneer songwriter for Hollywood musicals, writing over one thousand songs during his sixty-year career. Over those years, much was written about him in newspapers and magazines which has been lost to the general public.
Grouped into three sections based on the chronology of Berlin's life and work, each section and article in the book features a critical introduction which puts the material in the context of Berlin's life, work, and the wider culture. A final section is devoted to writings by Berlin on songwriting and a sampling of letters he wrote to business associates, friends, and even some fan letters to leading performers of his songs. Overall, the selections in The Irving Berlin Reader provide a new perspective on the songwriter which highlights his musical genius and artistic development.
Benjamin Sears, with pianist Bradford Conner, is a noted singer of the Great American songbook who has appeared throughout the US and Europe. With Conner he has four CD release of Irving Berlin, with two more in process, all part of an unprecedented seven-CD overview of Berlin's entire songwriting career. A hallmark of this series is many previously unrecorded songs. Sears & Conner have also recorded songs by George & Ira Gershwin, E.Y. Harburg, also featuring historic first recordings. Their Ira Gershwin CD, Delishious (the only CD release for his 1996 centenary), was acclaimed by The Boston Globe as one of the best CDs of 1995. With duo Valerie Anastasio & Tim Harbold they have performed and recorded songs by Cole Porter and Noël Coward, and songs written for Ethel Merman and Fred Astaire.
Sears & Conner are leading Berlin scholars with significant milestones, including the discovery in 1996 of a long-lost Berlin song, Santa Claus – A Syncopated Christmas Song, which was written in 1917, over twenty years before White Christmas. They later wrote about their discovery for Sheet Music magazine. Together they have researched and reconstructed Berlin's first three Broadway shows, Watch Your Step (1914), Stop! Look! Listen! (1915), and Yip Yip Yaphank (his 1918 Army show), all for performances (in first revivals) by the Boston-based ensemble American Classics. They also reconstructed and produced the first revival of the classic 1931 revue The Band Wagon by Howard Dietz & Arthur Schwartz and George S. Kaufman.
Sears has provided entries on Ann Ronell, Kay Swift, and Dana Suesse for American National Biography (Oxford University Press); and entries on Ronell and Anne Caldwell for the new "AmeriGrove" (OUP). Sears & Conner wrote an article on researching Broadway shows, Reconstructing Lost Musicals, for the Music Reference Services Quarterly in 2007. Sears was consulted for the PBS American Masters program Yours For a Song: The Women of Tin Pan Alley. He is currently working on an article, Putting The Wheels Back on "The Band Wagon", about the reconstruction of that show, for an upcoming edition of Studies in American Musical Theatre dedicated to Broadway revues.