American musical theater composer Irving Berlin was born Israel Baline, in eastern Russia on May 11, 1888, the youngest of six children of Jewish cantor, Moses Baline, who brought his family to New York in 1893. When his father died a few years later, Israel left school and helped support the family as a busker, entertaining with skits and songs on the sidewalks of New York's Lower East Side. He changed his name to Irving Berlin in response to rampant anti-Semitism in the New York entertainment world.
Although he never learned to read or write music, Berlin became a self-taught rudimentary pianist and moved from street entertainer to jobs as a singing waiter, and later as a song plugger in Tin Pan Alley. He "wrote" songs by first working out his compositions on the piano, and then playing them for somebody who could transcribe them into musical notation, a system he continued to use his entire career.