Irving Berlin burst onto the musical scene in 1911 with the hit song “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Tapping into a musical style that had been wildly popular during the 1890s, Berlin’s syncopated march revived the genre and sparked a wave of ragtime-based Broadway shows.
This would not be the last jazzy number that Berlin wrote, however. Among his dozens of hits were “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” songs that used similar syncopated and/or upbeat rhythms. But Berlin’s most popular and enduring songs were ballads like “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade,” “Blue Skies,” “Always,” and “God Bless America.” With these songs, Berlin hit on a formula that resonated deeply with Americans: singable, melodic tunes with lyrics that touched upon common, simple feelings and beliefs.
Some critics have argued that Berlin built his career by pandering to popular tastes and writing narrowly for the market. After all, the Jewish composer’s most commercially successful song was about Christmas. But Berlin’s defenders argue that his willingness to give the public what it wanted was tied to his democratic instincts; he believed that “the real People” were the best judges of good music. "The mob is always right,” he once said. “It seems to be able to sense instinctively what is good, and I believe that there are darned few good songs which have not been whistled or sung by the crowd."