America blessed Irving Berlin on his 100th birthday, as such diverse celebrities as Leonard Bernstein, Walter Cronkite and Garrison Keillor sang the legacies of the composer who "set the world tapping."
The prolific songwriter, a longtime recluse, didn't attend the three-hour celebration Wednesday night before a packed house at Carnegie Hall, although he was believed to be listening via a hookup from his New York mansion.The pageantry started big and ended bigger, with the Army Chorus and soldiers from Fort Dix, N.J., filling the stage in front of a 30-piece orchestra, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts standing in the aisles and Marilyn Horne's mezzo-soprano voice soaring above them in Berlin's "God Bless America."
Then, most of the evening's performers stood in front of the audience of 4,000, joined hands and arms, and everybody sang a lusty "There's No Business Like Show Business," another Berlin classic.
"When Irving Berlin began writing 83 years ago, American popular music had no voice of its own," said violinist Isaac Stern. "We were a hodgepodge of nationalities and noises. But he heard nothing but melodies.
"American music was born at his piano. By 30, he was a legend. Out of the fabric of our lives, Irving Berlin has given us a place we call home. It was this love (of America) that gave him the strength to write the music that now lasts forever," Stern said.