Friday, November 18, 2016

Commemorating A Birthday For A Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia.

Sketch and signature, Mercer grave, Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

John Herndon "Johnny" Mercer, the great American songwriter and favorite son of Savannah, Georgia,, was born on this day in 1909. Over three decades he wrote the lyrics to thousands 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, he 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 and jazz, you may be surprised at how many of these songs are still with us:

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.

Mercer had a wide-ranging career as a prolific lyricist and songwriter, popular singer, and music industry innovator, entrepreneur and benefactor before dying in Los Angeles from brain cancer in 1976. Forty years after his passing hardly a day passes that even a casual music listener will not hear a Johnny Mercer song. For those who enjoy the Great American Songbook and jazz/pop vocals, the Mercer magic remains very much alive in contemporary music. Looks like the man once described by the lyricist, Yip Harburg, as "one of our great folk poets" will be around for a long, long time. How lucky we are!

About two years before his death in 1976 Mercer recorded several of his best compositions that were released on the album, Johnny Mercer Sings Johnny Mercer.  And here is the old music master singing one of his Academy Award winning songs:

Yes, he'll be around a long, long time.

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