According to Berlin biographer Laurence Bergreen, this was the first song he ever wrote. Irving Berlin began his musical career as a singing waiter at Ni--er Mike's. At the turn of the 20th Century, the dreaded N word did not have quite the same negative connotations as in the era of political correctness, but it was still a derogatory term. Ni--er Mike though was not black but a Russian Jew like Berlin; his Pelham Café was also misnamed, it was not a café but a dance hall.
After a rival New York establishment produced an Italian dialect song
, Mike Salter asked Berlin to follow suit, so Izzy Baline came up with "Marie From Sunny Italy," the music of which, and some of the words, were contributed by Mike Nicholson, Salter's resident pianist. Although the song was "riddled with howlers and awkward rhymes," it was expected to be a success, and it was; music publisher Joseph W. Stern bought it for 75 cents, and it was published in May 1907 with the name I. Berlin on the sheet music. Although Berlin received only half of this minuscule sum, it led to bigger and greater things. Two years later he was appointed staff lyricist for the Ted Snyder Company, two years after that he wrote "Alexander's Ragtime Band
", and the rest is history.
Alexander Baron - London, England