Irving Berlin and his wife Ellin Mackay

Irving Berlin and his wife Ellin Mackay

ALWAYS

Given as a wedding present by Berlin to his bride Ellin Mackay. (They were married January 4, 1926.) According to a notation by Berlin on the earliest known piano-vocal manuscript of the song—found among his papers and now in the Irving Berlin Collection of the Music Division of the Library of Congress - “Always” was written in Atlantic City in July 1925. Yet there is evidence that composition was begun even earlier. A notation on a Berlin copyright card indicates that the title “Always” was registered with the Music Publishers Protection Association (MPPA) on May 28, 1925. The lyric on that earliest piano-vocal manuscript, as Berlin mentioned in an undated contemporary article, was intended to be a “dummy,” or temporary lyric:

"I’ll belong to you / Always / Will you love me too / Always / Should there come a day / When the sky is gray / Love will find a way / Always. / Always / In the spring or fall / Always / At your beck and call / Always / Not for just an hour / Not for just a day / Not for just a year / But always."

In discussing those last four lines—the only lines carried over to the final version - Berlin told an unnamed newspaper, “Those were the dummy lines - and I really thought at the time that they weren’t good enough. Now I believe that without those lines the song would never have been half as popular as it was. Now I think they’re just right - but I didn’t know at the time.” Over the years it has been frequently but incorrectly claimed that “Always” was written for the musical The Cocoanuts. Actually, “Always” was written before Berlin began work on that score. In a letter to Groucho Marx, a star of that show, dated June 2, 1959, he wrote: “Now, regarding my song ‘Always’ where The Cocoanuts is concerned, I didn’t write it to be part of the score of this show, but I did write it during that period. I remember singing it for George Kaufman and he didn’t seem too enthusiastic.”

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In an earlier letter to Marx (May 23, 1958), Berlin wrote, “Thinking back, if I had put it in the show, I wonder who could have sung it outside of yourself.” According to the Boston Record of July 9, 1943, “Always” was introduced by Belle Baker at the Bushwick Theatre in Brooklyn (date unknown). Over the years there have been many successful recordings of the song, two of which became number-one sellers two weeks apart in 1926: the first, by George Olsen and His Orchestra (Okeh), on April 24, and the second, by Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra (Okeh), on May 8.


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Excerpt(s) from The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin edited by Robert Kimball and Linda Emmet, copyright © 2001 by The Estate of Irving Berlin, Robert Kimball, and Linda Emmet. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing. Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.