Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Eighth Day Of Christmas, New Year's Day 2014

Happy New Year!

In  much of Western Christianity today is celebrated either as the Solemnity of Mary or the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. The Gospel for the day is simply one verse from Luke:

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Our music is Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata for New Year's Day, Jesu, nun sei gepreiset, ("Jesus, now be praised."), BWV 41. Those who would enjoy an English translation will find one here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Seventh Day Of Christmas 2013

The Seventh Day of Christmas is New Year's Eve. In much of Christian Europe this day is also known as Silvester or the Feast of Sylvester. One of the more interesting iterations of celebrating the arrival of the new year occurs in Scotland. It's known as Hogmanay. It's a nice blend of old and new elements including fireworks, bonfires, torchlight processions, and driving out the trolls.

For today's music, here's a very notable interpretation of an old tune...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Sixth Day Of Christmas 2013

Today is Monday of Christmas Week. It is a quiet day in the Christian calendar, a day without a festival or commemoration. Six days of Christmastide with its feasting and celebration are behind us and we have six more days to experience. At this midpoint we'll enjoy a feast day of another kind...

... and music to match. The Boar's Head Carol dates from 15th century England. The presentation and feast it describes likely has pagan origins as do many of our Christmas traditions. In the U.S., restoration of this traditional whole pig roast, complete with apple, appears to be strong among churches and colleges. Here is a bold treatment of the carol by Steeleye Span and Maddy Prior:

The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary.
I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio (Translation: As many as are in the feast)


Caput apri defero (Translation: The boar's head I offer)
Reddens laudes Domino (Translation: Giving praises to the Lord)

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico. (Translation: Let us serve with a song)


Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which, on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio. (Translation: In the Queen's hall)


Saturday, December 28, 2013

The First Sunday After Christmas 2013

This year the Fifth Day of Christmas coincides with the First Sunday after Christmas.  The Gospel reading for this day - Matthew 2:13-23 - ends with the return of the Holy Family to Israel:

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

The Holy Family                Salvadore Dali, 1959

Music for the day is a chorus from Ralph Vaughan Williams's Christmas cantata, "Hodie," written in 1954.

The blessed son of God only
In a crib full poor did lie;
With our poor flesh and our poor blood
Was clothed that everlasting good.

The Lord Christ Jesu, God's son dear,
Was a guest and a stranger here;
Us for to bring from misery,
That we might live eternally.

All this did he for us freely,
For to declare his great mercy;
All Christendom be merry therefore,
And give him thanks for evermore.

The quote from the Gospel of Matthew is taken from the English Standard Version published in 2001.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Fourth Day Of Christmas

On this day of Christmas we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Innocents are the young male children of Bethlehem killed by King Herod in his attempt to eliminate the threat to his power from a newborn King of the Jews.

Massacre of the Innocents                                       Peter Paul Rubens, ca 1611

Music for the day is the "Coventry Carol" , a song from the mystery play, The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. Guild plays in Coventry, England, date to the 14th century but the documentation of their contents did not appear until the mid 1500's.

In the play, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him to take Mary and the Child to Egypt to escape Herod's slaughter. Immediately thereafter, three mothers from Bethlehem enter with their children and sing the carol.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his owne sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

The Third Day Of Christmas 2013

December 27 is the Third Day of Christmas and the feast day of Saint John the Evangelist and Apostle. John was one of the Twelve. He stood at the foot of the cross at the Crucifixion. At the direction of Jesus, he cared for Mary until her death. Most Bible scholars credit John with the authorship of the Gospel of John, three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation.

St. John the Evangelist                                El Greco, ca 1600

Music for the day is Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata, Sehen welch eine liebe hat uns der vater erzeiget, BWV 64. The title translates as "Mark ye how great a love this is that the Father has shown us." Bach wrote this piece for the Third Day of Christmas in 1723 during his first year in Leipzig. Those who would like a translation of the libretto can find one here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Second Day Of Christmas 2013

On this Second Day of Christmastide, Western Christianity also celebrates its first martyr, Saint Stephen.

Saint Stephen detail from the Demiforff Alterpiece                       Carlo Crivelli,1476
In 1853 John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore published a song that unites both the season and the saint. Perhaps you've heard it...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Close Of Christmas Day

On this day we attended Christmas worship, put the finishing touches on dinner, welcomed our guests, enjoyed dinner, exchanged gifts, watched A Muppet Christmas Carol, played games, said goodbyes to our guests, and washed all the dishes. By 10 o'clock we settled into quiet relaxation beside the glowing fireplace.

It is time to listen to a Christmas tradition...

This story never ages. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Day 2013

Merry Christmas!

...from the 5th century Roman poet, Aurelius Prudentius

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever bless├Ęd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

The Descent of Peace (Butts set)   William Blake, circa 1815

to the 20th century American composer, Charles Ives...

Little star of Bethlehem!
Do we see thee now?
Do we see thee shining
O'er the tall trees?
Little child of Bethlehem!
Do we hear thee in our hearts?
Hear the angels singing:
Peace on earth, good will to men!

O'er the cradle of a King,
Hear the angels sing:
In Excelsis Gloria, Gloria!
From his Father's home on high,
Lo! For us he came to die;
Hear the angels sing:
Venite adoremus Dominum.

Christmas Eve 2013

It is the Eve of Christmas. Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. Today we continue to ponder the extraordinary, a virgin carrying the Son of God in her womb.

These words have been set to music for a thousand years. This stunning setting was written in 1994 by the American composer, Morten Lauridsen.

O great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord lying in their manger. Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

Annuciation to the Shepherds                William Blake, 1809

Postcard: Wiener Werkstatte
Blake Illustration: Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas 2013: Art And Music For December 23

The Wexford Carol, originating in 12th century Ireland, is one of the oldest carols in the Christian world.  

The complete lyrics...

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born

The night before that happy tide
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town
But mark right well what came to pass
From every door repelled, alas
As was foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble ox's stall

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God's angel did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear
Arise and go, the angels said
To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you'll find, this happy morn
A princely babe, sweet Jesus, born

With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went the babe to find
And as God's angel had foretold
They did our Saviour Christ behold
Within a manger he was laid
And by his side a virgin maid
Attending on the Lord of Life
Who came on earth to end all strife

There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah lay
They humbly cast them at his feet
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday In Advent 2013

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we light the Angel's Candle symbolizing the annunciation of Christ's birth.

The Annunciation of Mary                                                              Salvador Dali, 1967

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a Virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

                                                                                                                    Luke 1:26-38

Music for the day is the 15th century English song text, Adam Lay Ybounden, performed by the Mediaeval Babes.

in Middle English...

Adam lay ibounden
Bounden in a bond
Foure thousand winter
Thought he not too long

And all was for an apple
An apple that he tok
As clerkes finden
Wreten in here book

Ne hadde the apple take ben
The apple taken ben
Ne hadde never our lady
A ben hevene queen

Blissed be the time
That apple take was
Therefore we moun singen
"Deo gracias!"

in  Modern English ...

Adam lay in bondage
Bound by a contract
For four thousand winters
That he hadn't thought would be too long

And all because of an apple
An apple that he took
As clerics found
Written in this book

Had the apple never been taken
The apple been taken
Neither would our Lady ever have
Been the Queen of Heaven

So blessed be the moment
That apple was taken
For now we can sing
"Thanks be to God"

John Marin: Modernist Impressionist Expressionist

Self-Portrait, late 40's or early 50's                           John Marin

On this day in 1870 the American modernist painter, John Marin (1870-1953), was born in Rutherford, New Jersey. Marin was trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, spent a few years searching for his muse in Europe, then returned to his home country where he exhibited his work at the famous Armory Show of 1913. A decade later he had attracted the attention of major collectors including Duncan Phillips whose world-renowned collection of modern art would form the core of the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C.

I was introduced to Marin's work when David Grimsted took his entire history class to the Phillips Gallery for an exploration of American culture through the artist's eye. Not sure how much history was absorbed that day, but I left with an appreciation of John Marin's work still going strong after 43 years.

Brooklyn Bridge, 1913

Pertaining to Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street, 1933

Blue Sea, 1945

Credits: All images from the Phillips Collection website.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pajama Boy: Fashions By The Krell

You science fiction movie buffs out there know all about "monsters from the id." Those creatures are always very telling. Sometimes they're dangerous not only to others, but to the very people who created them. We may have a case in point with Pajama Boy.

It seems one of the latest Obamacare promotional ads from Organizing for Action features Pajama Boy.  The ad may be revealing much about the perception of the liberal minds running the show regardless of whether or not it attract clients. The usual lefty media suspects are running interference for "PB" and his sponsors but I doubt much can be done to disperse the creepiness. National Review Online's Charles Cooke has some humorous commentary about Pajama Boy and what he represents to the great minds responsible for managing our national government until January 2017. Do enjoy the comments as well.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fletcher Henderson: He Helped Put The Blues In Jazz And Jazz In Swing

Fletcher Henderson and his orchestra
If you enjoy the sound of big band, swing, and jazz, today marks a significant birthday in the history of that evolutionary strain of American music. Residents of Georgia can also celebrate this day as a birthday of one of their own. Who the subject of all this celebration? His name is Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952). He was born into a well-educated and musical family in the southwest Georgia town of Cuthbert. Henderson earned a degree in chemistry and mathematics but as a black man he had a difficult time finding work in those fields and soon turned to music to make a living. That musical career took him from accompanying Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and other blues singers, through the creation of an orchestra that included Don Redman and Louis Armstrong, to work as a composer-accompanist for Benny Goodman at a formative time for the swing era.

Henderson played an important role in bringing improvisational jazz elements into big band/dance band compositions. Both Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman credited his talent as an arranger for much of their success. It is interesting that his role in the development of American popular music was not well understood until academic studies of the history of jazz appeared late in the last century.

Here are two examples of the Henderson sound. The first is a 1927 recording of the Henderson orchestra, the second is a brief "arranging workshop" featuring Goodman and Henderson followed by the Goodman orchestra performing Henderson's famous arrangement of Blue Skies:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Erskine Caldwell: 1930s Labor And Lust In The Midland Savannah River Valley Dust

Born in Georgia, Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) was an only child, a "PK," a preacher's kid. The family moved frequently throughout the South until he was fifteen when they settled in Wrens, Georgia. Still, his father often preached on large circuits, necessitating plenty of travel. In fact, the elder Caldwell traveled so regularly that his son could determine his destinations by the odor of coal smoke on his suit. In time, father took son on many of these journeys. 

The peculiarity, poverty, and injustice of the Depression era South was embedded in Erskine Caldwell's memory and he soon began writing about it. His observations had little to do with remnants of "the late unpleasantness" - the polite Southern term for the War of Northern Aggression, aka, the Civil War - that often gripped the region. Instead, Caldwell wrote of the raw realities of the human condition in the South. This, and his crusade for improving conditions, did not sit well with many Southerners. The dislike was enhanced because he was writing "in absentia." having left the South before 1930. Furthermore, his subject matter often placed him in conflict with censors across the country.

Caldwell had a long career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but he is best known for Tobacco Road (1932), God's Little Acre(1933) and other works from the 1930s. An adaptation of Tobacco Road played on Broadway for eight years - a record at the time - beginning in 1933. A very loose film adaptation directed by John Ford in 1941 contributed to the stereotyping and ridicule of poor white Southerners. God's Little Acre remains one of the most popular novels in the U.S. with over ten million copies in print. A 1958 film version is considered the best presentation of Caldwell themes on film.

Here are clips from both films:


Caldwell, who was born on this day in 1903, is an interesting blend of 20th century authors. He is Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Mitchell, and a reflection of other modernists. Readers who seek more than discourse on the happy veneer of the human condition will enjoy Caldwell's interpretations.

Read more about him in this article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

A version of this post appeared in 2012.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gaudete: The Third Sunday in Advent 2013

Madonna in the Rose Garden            Stefan Lochner, ca 1448

Prepare the way by proclaiming good news. The early church gave the title "Gaudete" to the third Sunday in Advent. The word simply means, "Rejoice!" When you are joyful about something, you share that good news. Think of the custom of the family Christmas letter. Many families will send out letters during these holidays, summarizing the joyful family news of the past year: the birth of a grandchild, a new job, etc. If such joyful events are considered worthy of sharing, how much more the goo news that the Son of God came into our world to save us from sins! Moreover, he is coming again to take believers to an eternity of glory. That is good news believers need to hear again and again. It is a message that we with joyful faith yearn to share with a world that is in desperate need of some good news.
The joyful nature of this Sunday is illustrated by the lone, rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath. It hints of the joyful birth that we are soon to celebrate.

For the seekers of antiquity among our readers here is the chanted Introit - with translation below - from which this Sunday gets it name:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.
                                                                     Phillipians, 4:4-6: Psalm 85(84):

May your day be filled with rejoicing!

The opening quotation appeared in the 2013 Gaudete Sunday Bulletin, Abiding Grace Lutheran Church, Covington, Georgia..

Gaudete translation source: Wikipedia page for Gaudete Sunday.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

We Remember Pearl Harbor

This is the 72nd anniversary of the Imperial Japanese Navy's attack on the U.S. Navy's base at Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 2004

There were almost 4000 casualties that day, including 1200 dead.

The attack led to a war effort that included 16,000,000 American men and women in uniform.  Only 1,200,000 of these veterans survive and they are dying at the rate of 740 a day. Soon, the relics, memorials and ceremony will be all that is left to testify to America's greatest generation at war. If we are to survive, we need to remember them now and in the future for what they did to crush evil in the world.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Night For Krampus; Or, Oh My Little Darling, You Have Coal In Your Stocking?

When I was growing up there were plenty of warning from parents, great aunts and uncles, and assorted other adults about receiving a lump of coal in my Christmas stocking as payment for a past year of bad behavior. So much for gifts as a sign of grace at Christmastide. On the other hand, perhaps we are a bit overdue on reinstituting some form of payment - punishment if you will - for the erosion of good conduct across the country. Of course, such a move should apply to all age groups but I suggest we begin with the young as they are most easily conditioned.

And the vehicle for this proposal? We don't have to create something new for this plan. Some years ago I stumbled on the perfect messenger. In fact, in many central and eastern European cultures, the visage has been around for centuries. To boot, for the last thousand years or so he has been associated with the most benevolent and generous of figures, Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas or as we know him today, Santa. So who  is the other half of this duality? His name is Krampus. 

St. Nicholas and Krampus, by Arnold Nechansky, Wiener Werkstatte, 1912

I first discovered Krampus through an interest in post cards. When I began looking at cards from central Europe, especially those printed by the magnificent Wiener Werstatte in the early decades of the 20th century, I noticed that two figures often appeared on the Christmas cards depicting a visit to a welcoming family. One was a traditional Saint Nicholas character dressed in ornate flowing robes and carrying a bag of gifts. The other was a shabbily dressed rather grotesque if not devil-like creature carrying a bundle of switches and a bag. The intention of the visit was to leave a nice gift for the good children or a lump of coal for the "behaviorally challenged." While good children enjoyed their presents, moderately bad boys and girls could expect a swat or two from the switches. The worst cases went into the bag. 

Please, I'm not advocating whipping or kidnapping as a corrective for youth beyond the bounds of civilized coexistence. Rather, I'd just like a little balance for all the feet jabbed into my Economy Class back between Atlanta and anywhere, the screaming tantrums endured at finer restaurants, and the cell phone use at theaters I no longer patronize. Yes, it is time to bring on the coal. 

Tonight, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, is the Night of the Krampus. Although this night for European adults has taken on an almost Halloween-like character often fueled by alcohol, it remains a fascinating, ancient story of the dual nature of our existence. Those who understand that good does not stand without evil, just as there are no mountains without valleys, can learn more about the Krampus tradition here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

At Sunset On The First Sunday Of Advent 2013

The Descent of Peace                                       William Blake

I give you the end of a gold string. 
Only wind it in a ball, 
It will lead you to Heaven's gate
 built in Jerusalem's wall.

                                              William Blake, "Jerusalem"

As we enter into the seasons of Advent and Christmastide, it is time once more to explore almost two thousand years of music written and performed for this holy time. Dating from the 7th century, here is the plainsong, Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars at Night):

Here is some background on the hymn including its original text and an English translation.

Thanksgiving 2013: All's Well That Ends Well

As promised, it's time to share the Thanksgiving verdict on Skipjack Oyster Dressing. It say it was a strong positive in spite of the detractors complaining about that awful smell coming out of the kitchen. My response is that ever-so-popular phrase, "What difference does it make?"  For the neophytes, it was a minor hit. For the hopeless gastronomes, a feast.

Here's the recipe. And here's a word or two about where the recipe gets its name. Maybe you'll try it for Christmas?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Billy Strayhorn: The Man Behind So Much Music

For jazz, pop and Great American Songbook enthusiasts today marks another important birthday, that of Billy Strayhorn. He was the genius songwriter and arranger behind many of Duke Ellington's hits if not his fame. I have written about Strayhorn in a few posts over the years but never devoted one to him until today when I found Scott Johnson's Power Line tribute, Lush Life, just could not be ignored. Do check it out and make a note of his mention of Terry Teachout's new biography of Duke Ellington, a study that explores the Ellington-Strayhorn partnership at length.

As Johnson notes, the song, Lush Life has many fine interpretations. He makes mention of my favorite version. And thanks to You Tube, readers can listen to the Johnny Hartman-John Coltrane interpretation and make their own decision.

To me, it's the best. Hartman is superb here. No equal. Add Coltrane and we have even greater music history.

C.S. Lewis: A Christian Anchor With Heart Afire

A few days ago, November 22, we noted the death of C.S. Lewis, the most beloved Christian writer of the 20th century. Today marks the 115th anniversary of his birth (1898). I could easily write a few paragraphs and suggest some links for further study of this remarkable scholar. Instead, I ask that you set aside time for this brief documentary released by several student and faculty members at Asbury University (Lexington, Kentucky) earlier this year. It is a fine exploration of his reason, imagination, and journey to faith in Christ.


In the end there is something about taking measure of Lewis's significance that remains beyond our grasp. In the end the only way to fully appreciate the legacy he left is to pick up his books and open the door to the great adventure he left for us inside of them.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

An Old Bay Ranger Thanksgiving

All of us have heard the story about the courage it took for the first troglodyte to slurp into a raw oyster. In all seriousness, I must give the guy credit, if reason was a part of his consciousness. The presentation hasn't changed much over time, so the aversion persists; however, some of us have courageously overcome it. I suppose growing up near the food source has made a difference.

For those who remember the Chesapeake Bay as a great seafood factory, oysters were a plentiful, essential food. My family enjoyed them in a variety of ways, but my favorites were always fried oysters and oyster stuffing. In Maryland, the oyster stuffing was reserved for Thanksgiving Dinner.

In 1976, I left the Chesapeake in a driving January snowstorm and, some years later, married into a family with other Thanksgiving traditions. It has been a losing battle ever since, with a lonely sage dressing gracing our holiday table for most of the past 31 Thanksgivings. This year marks another concession as we will have guests, and there will be dressing options, including oysters. I could veer my thoughts toward the question, "Is it stuffing or dressing?" or "Is it essential to stuff in order to call it stuffing?", but I will not.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program came to my rescue with this recipe as my mother's is long lost. 

The rest of the menu? It's a lot like this one served on the U.S.S. Kentucky on this holiday in 1907:

And the day wouldn't be right without a prayer of thanks and food music:

From the good aromas in the kitchen to the savory feast on the table, the Old Tybee Ranger household wishes you and yours a most happy Thanksgiving

Menu for U.S.S. Kentucky's Thanksgiving Day 1907 courtesy of the Navy Department Library, Washington. Here's more of their holiday menu collection. We're going to eat almost as good as the ship; no cigars and cigarettes this year.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr. Cool

One of the most significant books in the historiography of the South, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips's Life and Labor in the Old South, begins with these words: 

Let us begin by discussing the weather for that has been the chief agency in making the South distinctive. ... The summers are not merely long but bakingly hot, with  temperatures ranging rather steadily in the eighties and nineties of the Fahrenheit scale.

The early 20th century single story Southern home, with its high-roof, wrap-around porch, and traditional "dog trot" breezeway, is a vernacular response to that baking heat. Homes of this type can still be found throughout the South, in fact, contemporary construction in the region often incorporates its features in vestigial form. But what has made the South so popular these days? I believes in particular the natural climate remains a significant draw, especially now that the social and political climate of the New South welcomes all Americans. Still, Southerners must deal with the heat. And that brings us to the significance of November 26.

On this day in 1876, a son, Willis H. Carrier, was born into an old New England family. By the turn of the century, Carrier developed a system of conditioning air in a stiflingly hot and humid Brooklyn printing plant. The new environment ensured stability in the paper and the perfect alignment of four-color printing. It was soon a huge success in several industries. By the 1920s, air conditioning became popular in retail trade and entertainment, especially the movie theater. It was a small jump from commercial systems to home systems, and by the 1930s, air conditioning began a slow but steady increase in usage until the post World War II era when it boomed. Carrier's application would have far reaching impacts on the American experience.

From an environmental perspective, air conditioning made the South livable year round. One could work hard outside on a mid-summer Georgia day and find comfort in an air conditioned break at work and a cool, comfortable supper and evening at home. Today, we take this comfort for granted across the nation giving it attention only when it's time to change the filter or the compressor dies.

If you call the South "home," take a moment today to thank Willis for his contribution, an invention you're going to appreciate perhaps as early as March of 2014 when that heat begins its sure increase to "bakingly" unbearable levels in the Southern summer.

For more information on the impact of air conditioning check out these sites:



N.B. Life and Labor in the Old South was written by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (1877-1934) in 1929.Phillips reflects not only the biases one could expect of a Southern historian of the time, but the original scholarship one would expect of the finest historians of our time. If readers seek out fine writing and a curiosity about ideas that have shaped our present-day interpretation of the American South, slavery and its legacy, and race as a primary theme in American history, I suggest they begin with U. B. Phillips.

This is an edited version of an earlier post.

Friday, November 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley: Fifty Years Ago Today

It is common knowledge that President John Kennedy died on this day. It is not well known that we lost three internationally famous men within seventy minutes that day, the others being C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley.  Although they could hardly come from three more distinct and disparate perspectives, all three of them shared deep concerns about the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

Lewis was one of the last century's leading scholars, novelists, and Christian apologists. Most readers likely know his name, but many may not be familiar with the depth and breadth of his literary accomplishments. From this writer's perspective, if you cannot enjoy a Lewis book you simply haven't read enough of his work. I was introduced to the author through a gift. My best friend gave me a copy of The Four Loves as medication for some perplexing developments in a relationship with Marti, the girl of my dreams at the time. Eventually, Marti moved on with a professor of English at UNC Chapel Hill. I was left with a life-long literary relationship with Lewis. I trust Marti found similar satisfaction with the prof.

Although Lewis was far from reclusive, he appreciated his privacy. For that reason, we have few interviews and recordings of the man. Fortunately, we do have a portrayal that gives some insight into what made him a beloved writer:

Aldous Huxley shared the life of the mind with Lewis but little else outside of his English background and writing skills. A humanist and lifelong pacifist, Huxley was a prolific writer best known for his novels and essays. Among the novels is Brave New World, a dystopic world view written in 1931 as a parody of utopian novels popular earlier in the century. From a spiritual perspective, he was an agnostic who maintained a strong interest in mysticism, universalism, and Vedanta. Later in his life, Huxley would be remembered for his experiments with hallucinogenic drugs and his accounts thereof.  Here he is in a 1958 television interview discussing threats to freedom in the United States:

Both Lewis and Huxley cast long intellectual shadows across the globe and Kennedy left us with "a fleeting wisp of glory" that follows us to this day.  I can enjoy what the three of them have brought to us, but for me I'm most likely to follow this advice from Lewis:

Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

John F. Kennedy: Fifty Years Ago Today

I was seventeen years old when Kennedy died. His passing marked the end of what we have come to call the American Camelot. Obviously, we need to take time to reflect on the great tragedy that occurred on this date. But I would rather move back a thousand days to the first day of his presidency where he spoke of a new vision and hope for the United States and the world. This is what he said:

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning--signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears  prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge--and more.
To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do--for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom--and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.
To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge--to convert our good words into good deeds--in a new alliance for progress--to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.
To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support--to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective--to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak--and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.
But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course--both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.
So let us begin anew--remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.
Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms--and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.
Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah--to "undo the heavy burdens ... and to let the oppressed go free."
And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.
All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.
Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are--but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Johnny Mercer: A Birthday For A Solid Music Master

Mercer Statue on Ellis Square          Savannah, Georgia

November 18, marks the 104th anniversary of the birth of John Herndon Mercer (1909-1976). For fans of the Great American Songbook, this is a significant event. Mercer won four Academy Awards for Best Original Song and had another twelve nominations. Indeed he was quite a music master.

Born into wealth in Savannah, Mercer often recounted how his Aunt Hattie hummed to him in his crib and "he hummed right back at her." It was the beginning of a musical career that would produce more than 1500 published songs, a few thousand more unpublished songs and song fragments, scores of poems and prose pieces, an unfinished autobiography, and a major chapter in the history of American music in the twentieth century.

In Mercer's Savannah, a rich Southern culture blended with a diverse and exciting port city. He spent his childhood fascinated by train and ship whistles, and the sounds and rhythms drifting from the black churches around town. He was thrilled by the chance to slip away from his mother's watchful eye and visit the black business district on West Broad Street - now MLK Boulevard - where he listened to race records. The family's summer home on the Vernon River, about ten miles south of town, immersed him in the natural world of Georgia's tidal creeks and salt marshes. By his teen years, he loved hearing the dance and jazz bands every summer at the famous Tybrisa Pavilion on nearby Tybee Island.  He also began writing songs and skits for his student productions at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia.

When the family business failed in the late '20s, any hope of returning to Woodberry or attending college dimmed. He grew bored at home and shipped off to New York to become a Broadway performer. The demand for singers was weak, but he began tinkering with lyric writing when he wasn't singing or working odd jobs. Here is his first published song lyric:

Lyrics are meant to be heard, but it's not always easy to appreciate them without the poetry on the page, so here is a sample of that early genius as work:

Out of Breath (1930)

lyrics by Johnny Mercer
music by Everette Miller

Mine's a hopeless case,
But there's one saving grace,
Anyone would feel as I do;
Out of breath and scared to death of you.
Love was first divined,
Then explored and defined,
Still the old sensation is new;
Out of breath and scared to death of you.
It takes all the strength that I can call to my command,
To hold your hand.
I would speak at length
About the love that should be made,
But I'm afraid.
Hercules and such
Never bothered me much,
All you have to do is say "Boo!"
Out of breath and scared to death of you.

Yes, it's pretty simple, comic stuff, but it had flashes of wordplay and bouncy rhythm. It was perfect for the Garrick Gaieties revue of 1930. 

One of the chorus girls left Johnny out of breath as well. Her name was Ginger Meehan and she was Bing Crosby's squeeze at the time. Eventually, Mercer won her over and they married in 1931 after Johnny secured a staff job writing lyrics. The following year, his persistent work paid off when he partnered with Hoagy Carmichael, already well-known for his sensational song, Stardust. After several months, the collaboration produced Lazybones, Mercer's first hit song. It was full of black dialect and all the stereotypical perceptions of the day. 

By the time Lazybones became popular, the New York music industry was in full transition thanks, in part, to the rapidly growing film industry in California. Films needed songs and with his prospects cooling in New York, Mercer traveled to Hollywood where he met his old friend, Bing Crosby, who had already made the transition to the West. The early years were a challenge for Mercer, but that changed in 1936. That year, Crosby offered to sing one of Mercer's songs in the film, Rhythm on the Range.  The film wasn't much. The song was a 

runaway hit:


I'm An Old Cowhand

words and music by Johnny Mercer

I'm and old cowhand
From the Rio Grande,
But my legs ain't bowed
And my cheeks ain't tanned.
I'm a cowboy who never saw a cow,
Never roped a steer 'cause I don't know how,
And I sure ain't fixin' to start in now.
Yippy I O Ki Ay,
Yippy I O Ki Ay.

. . .

And I learned to ride
'Fore I learned to stand,
I'm a ridin' fool who is up to date,
I know ev'ry trail in the Lone Star State,
'Cause I ride the range in a Ford V-Eight

. . .

And I come to town
Just to hear the band,
I know all the songs that the cowboys know,
'Bout the big corral where the doagies go,
'Cause I learned them all on the radio.

. . .

Where the West is wild
'Round the borderland,
Where the buffalo roam around the Zoo,
And the Indians make you a rug or two,
And the old Bar X is a Bar B Q.
Yippy I O Ki Ay,
Yippy I O Ki Ay.

I think Mercer came into perfect form with this one. With a little help from his pal, Crosby, his name became associated with songwriting among Hollywood's shakers and makers.  In these early years, h
e struggled through a few flop movies, but he learned the ins and outs of Hollywood, and continued writing poetry to music. 

Mercer went on to great fame after I'm An Old Cowhand.  Movies, records, and radio brought his folksy, common sense, "free and easy, that's my style" personality into homes across America and made him a beloved next door neighbor. Mercer could be serious with a lyric, but he was equally capable of making us laugh at our selves and our circumstances. Here are two outstanding examples:

I'd say almost every American can hum the title line of Hooray for Hollywood, but it's the rest of lyric that really sparkles. Here's the song as it appeared in Busby Berkeley's 1937 blockbuster , Hollywood Hotel. If you don't want to miss any words, the lyric is below.

Hooray For Hollywood

words by Johnny Mercer
music by Richard A. Whiting

Hooray for Hollywood!
That screwy bally hooey Hollywood,
Where any office boy or young mechanic
Can be a panic,
With just a good looking pan,
And any bar maid
Can be a star maid,
If she dances with or without a fan,

Hooray for Hollywood!
Where you're terrific if you are even good,
Where anyone at all from Shirley Temple
To Aimee Semple
Is equally understood,
Go out and try your luck,
You might be Donald Duck!
Hooray for Hollywood!

Hooray for Hollywood!
That phoney super Coney Hollywood,
They come from Chilicothes and Paducahs
With their bazookas
To get their names up in lights,
All armed with photos from local rotos,
With their hair in ribbons and legs in tights,

Hooray for Hollywood!
You may be homely in your neighborhood,
But if you think that you can be an actor,
See Mister Factor,
He'd make a monkey look good.
Within a half an hour,
You'll look like Tyrone Power!
Hooray for Hollywood!

Over three decades Mercer wrote the lyrics to hundreds of songs, collaborating with the country's top music writers, including Harold Arlen, Bernie Hannigan, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Gene DePaul, Henry Mancini, Jerome Kern, Rube Bloom, and Matty Malneck. In 1971, Mercer appeared in what he called a "parlor evening" performance as part of the 92nd Street Y's Lyrics and Lyricists Series. At the end of the program, Mercer delivered an unforgettable medley of his "bread and butter" songs. I'd say most songwriters and performers would be pleased to have five songs in such a list. Mercer had twenty-nine. Regardless of your age and interest in popular music, you may be surprised at how many of these songs you recognize:

Lazybones (1933), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Goody, Goody (1936), music by Marty Malneck

Too Marvelous For Words (1937), music by Richard A. Whiting

Jeepers Creepers (1938), music by Harry Warren

Satin Doll (1958), written with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn

You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby (1938), music by Harry Warren

That Old Black Magic (1943), music by Harold Arlen

Accentuate the Positive (1944) music by Harold Arlen

Fools Rush In (1940), music by Rube Bloom

I Remember You (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger

Day In - Day Out (1939), music by Rube Bloom

Dearly Beloved (1942), music by Jerome Kern

Come Rain or Come Shine (1946), music by Harold Arlen

Tangerine (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger

Hooray For Hollywood (1938), music by Richard A. Whiting

Laura (1945), music by David Raksin

Dream (1944), words and music by Johnny Mercer

On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe (1946, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Harry Warren

Something's Gotta Give (1954), words and music by Johnny Mercer

One For My Baby (1943), music by Harold Arlen

In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening (1951, Academy Award for Best Music, Oroginal Song), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Skylark (1941), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Autumn Leaves (1950), music by Joseph Kosma

I Wanna Be Around (1962), words and music by Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt

Blues in the Night (1941), music by Harold Arlen

Charade (1963), music by Henry Mancini

Summer Wind (1965), music by Henry Mayer

Moon River (1961, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini

Days of Wine and Roses (1962, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini

That's plenty of "bread and butter" on one man's plate, but we need to keep in mind that he had seven more songs nominated for an Academy Award that never made it into the medley. What a talent.  

If you're curious to learn even more about Mercer, your minimal immersion  requires three books, one website, and one audio disk.


A good starting point is, Johnny Mercer: The Life, Times and Song Lyrics of Our Huckleberry Friend. It was collected and edited by television producer Bob Bach and Ginger Mercer, Johnny's widow. There's nothing scholarly about it. It is simply a nostalgic look at Mercer's career through photos, letters, notes, sheet music covers, lyrics, and tributes. Photos are always worth their thousand words, and the book gives readers the chance to study the lyrics to almost 100 Mercer songs. One highlight is the publication of the texts of four Christmas greeting cards. In two of them, Johnny worked his lyrical magic using all the surnames on his card list. The book concludes with incomplete lists of his published songs and motion picture contributions.

Philip Furia takes a more scholarly approach to Mercer in his book, Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer. This book is a well-balanced treatment of a life characterized by great success as well as trouble and torment. It is well known that Mercer could be not only a gentleman and generous friend when sober, but also a vicious drunk who frequently sent roses to his victims the day after his verbal assaults. But Furia is at his best analyzing the process of songwriting, devoting many pages to a single song, and detailing the origin and evolution of the lyric. If you want to skip the nostalgia and go straight to reading a very good biography, Furia has written your book.

Gene Lees was a music biographer, lyricist and jazz historian who was a personal friend of Mercer's beginning around 1950. He brings more of a Hollywood insider perspective to the Mercer story, and does so with an entertaining, informal style. If this is what you look for in a biography, then Portrait of Johnny: The Life and Times of John Herndon Mercer is your book. The book doesn't have Furia's tight organization, but it is full of personal recollections and opinions from scores of close friends and associates. The high point for me is the author's extensive use of direct quotes from Mercer's unpublished autobiography. On the other hand, Lees gives his readers almost too much detail on Ginger Mercer as the terror in her family's life. Some readers may say the book is more of a layman's psychological analysis than a true biography. Regardless, it provides a nice balance to Furia's book in spite of the duplication.


If you want to use the Internet as a source of information on Johnny Mercer, there is no better site than the Johnny Mercer Foundation/Educational Archives. The home page may look a bit plain, but don't let that fool you; the links open windows to hundreds of pages of media.


You can find scores of audio CDs featuring the songwriting and singing talent of Johnny Mercer. For me there is one essential CD and an "honorable mention." The essential is An Evening With Johnny Mercer, the 92nd Street Y Lyrics and Lyricists program Mercer did in 1971. I think it's a great hour to spend with the man and his music.

The "honorable mention" is Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook. Fitzgerald's brilliant eight-album Songbook Series was recorded between 1956 and 1964, at the height of her vocal quality. The Mercer tribute is included here because of her near-perfect diction - you do want to hear the words - the fact that Mercer was the only lyricist honored in the Songbook Series.

I have provided you with some details about Mercer's life, his contribution to American popular music, and best of all, several examples of his words and music. In addition, for those interested in learning more about him, I listed several sources in a variety of formats. There's plenty more to know. If you do pick up a book or check out a website, you'll find that Mercer was both the source of the idea and a founding member of Capitol Records. You'll also read that he was extraordinarily generous. You'll also find out that, almost throughout his life, the fame and fortune came at great personal cost. That seems to be the rule. Still, Mercer's gap-toothed smile and performance talent brought pleasure to millions of Americans during the mid-century. 

It has now been more than a generation since Mercer's death in 1976. He may be gone, but that mountain of music and the ideas he left behind are very much alive and well. Mercer stays with Great American Songbook and jazz enthusiasts through the singers and organizations that keep his music and legacy alive. Here is a list of past and present singers 


Margaret Whiting (Long associated with Mercer as a performer and family friend, she was a most significant individual promoter of Mercer's music late in her life.) 

Frank Sinatra

Mel Torme (extensive recordings from the Mercer catalog, but no single album)

Sylvia Syms

Nancy LaMott (outstanding interpretation; her untimely death was a great loss to the music world))

Susannah McCorkle

Diana Krall (extensive recordings from the catalog, but - very sadly - no single album)

Bobby Darin (a landmark album recorded with Mercer; it's a classic)

Maxine Sullivan (simply swinging jazz from a great vocalist)
Shari Lynn

Jenny Ferris

Blossom Dearie (close associate of Mercer in his last years who kept his memory and music very much alive until hear death in 2009)


The Johnny Mercer Foundation/Educational Archives I mentioned this site earlier. Just about everything you want to know will be here.

The Johnny Mercer Special Collection, Georgia State University This university in downtown Atlanta houses most of Mercer's personal papers and memorabilia. They also maintain a well-done exhibit room on "the bard from Savannah."

Songwriters Hall of Fame Mercer was a co-founder of this organization in 1969

That just about covers my Mercer tribute for 2013. I want to end with three favorite Mercer lyrics that have become embedded in our culture as Great American songs and jazz standards over their sixty years. They are:

Midnight Sun

Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke wrote Midnight Sun in 1954 as an instrumental and had a big hit with it. The story goes that Mercer heard the tune on the freeway heading to his office. By the time he got there, he had the lyric. Ella Fitzgerald has "owned" this song for fifty years.

Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice warmer than the summer night
The clouds were like an alabaster palace rising to a snowy height
Each star its own aurora borealis suddenly you held me tight
I could see the midnight sun.

Early Autumn

Early Autumn was composed in 1949 by Ralph Burns and Woody Herman. 

When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze
And touches with her hand the summer trees,
Perhaps you'll understand what memories I own.
There's a dance pavilion in the rain all shuttered down,
A winding lane all russet brown
A frosty window pane shows me a town grown lonely.


In 1944, the film, Laura, appeared with a theme song composed by David Raskin. The next year Mercer added the haunting lyrics.

Laura is the face in the misty lights,
Footsteps that you hear down the hall.
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall.

And you see Laura on the train that is passing through,
Those eyes how familiar they seem.
She gave your very first kiss to you
That was Laura but she's only a dream.

If you do pick up a book or check out a website, you'll find that Mercer was quite a diverse personality. As a lyricist, composer, performer, businessman, and philanthropist, he shaped much of the American popular music industry for forty years, beginning in the mid 1930s.   You'll also find that, almost throughout his life, the fame and fortune came at great personal cost. That seems to be the rule. Still, Mercer's gap-toothed smile and performance talent brought pleasure to millions of Americans during the mid-century. He's still with us in so many ways. 

So happy birthday, Johnny. You're just about too marvelous for words. 

References: Books by Bach and Mercer, Furia, and Lees; Johnny Mercer Foundation; Georgia State University Archives, and The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer, by Kimball, Day. Kreuger and Davis.