Diamond in the Rough


Irving Berlin composed more than 3,000 songs, including “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” but he could barely read music, and his own singing voice was nearly inaudible.

Worse, as a self-taught pianist he played everything in F# major, requiring a special piano to explore other tonalities. “The black keys are right there under your fingers,” he once said. “The key of C is for people who study music.”

He relied on assistants to arrange his ideas — but he still claimed credit for the ideas themselves. “You may not be able to type your own letter, but somebody else can do it for you,” he said. “But they can’t make it up for you.”