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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Johnny Mercer (1909 – 1976): Huckleberry, you were a mean drunk, #1

The legendary lyricist Yip Harburg called Mercer “one of our great folk poets.” Lyricist Hal David (who died only on September 2, 2012) wrote, “He was southern, I am Brooklyn. He created the most wonderful images. He wrote lyrics I wish I could write, but I knew I couldn’t because I came from a different base.” The writer/composer Alec Wilder relates that he once got out of a cab in front of Mercer’s home in Los Angeles and he saw Mercer in his backyard, feeding birds, “Good God, the man who wrote ‘Mr. Meadowlark,’ ‘Bob White,’ and “Skylark’ really does love birds.” In the l930s and 1940s Mercer was a Hollywood star. Singer Margaret Whiting said, “If you were a composer you tried to get Johnny Mercer or Frank Loesser, or else it didn’t matter.” Frank Sinatra once said, “A Johnny Mercer lyric is all the wit you wish you had and all the love you ever lost.” Oscar Hammerstein dubbed Mercer “the most perfect American lyricist alive – American – pure American.” Philip Furia writes, “Mercer was one of the few lyricists who could skillfully set the jazz melodies of composers such as Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, and Duke Ellington. What gives Mercer’s best songs their distinctive character is their blend of urbanity and earthiness, a blend so distinctive that, alone among the lyricists of Tim Pan Alley, people speak of a ‘Mercer’ song’” as readily as they speak of a “Gershwin tune.” Gus Kahn, the very successful composer who wrote what Mercer thought was the greatest pop song ever written (“It Had to Be You”) told the young Mercer in l941 he would trade all of his hits for the ones that Mercer was destined to produce. Kahn died in l941.

Big Hits

*He is pictured on a 1996 34 cent US stamp commemorating the “Legends of American Music”
*He co-founded Capital Records in l942. By l946 Capital was responsible for 1/6th of all the records sold in the United States (42 million).
*He was nominated for an astonishing 19 Academy Awards.
*He has 19 #1 hit songs
*He had 11 million dollar selling records
*He worked with such great American popular composers such as Jerome Kern, Vernon Duke, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Yip Harburg, Jimmy McHugh, Arthur Schwartz, Henry Mancini, Harry Warren, Andre Previn and Marvin Hamlish.
*He was nominated for a Tony Award in l983 (Seven Brides and Seven Brothers)
*He is considered by many to be the premier American popular lyricist since World War 2.
*He was inducted as a founding member in the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters Hall of Fame in l971, and was its first president.
*He won four Academy Awards for music (1946, 1951, 1961 and l962), the first songwriter to win four Oscars. The ’61 and ’62 Oscars were with Henry Mancini and was the first time a songwriting team had accomplished that.
*He wrote or co-wrote over 1500 songs, over 750 were published.
*In an 18 month period of l945-1946, Mercer sang three #1 hit records of his (“Candy,” “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” and “Personality”).
*In l946 he had five top selling songs sung by other performers.
*He was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards (1966 and l989) and won twice (l971, “Whistling Away the Dark” and l972, “Life is What You Make It”)
*He wrote hit songs in four succeeding decades – 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s – from “Out of Breath and Scared to Death, of You” (l930) to “Summer Wind” (1965).
*The Canadian Royal Air Force adopted “Captains of the Clouds” (title song for a 1943 James Cagney film) as one of its official songs.
*He wrote his first song when he was in high school at age 15 (“Sister Susie Strut Your Stuff”) and his first major hit when he was 23 (“Lazybones” with Hoagy Carmichael composing).
*During the 1940s he had his own radio show, “The Johnny Mercer Chesterfield Music Shop.”
*In one week in 1943, he had five songs on the Hit Parade – half its list.
*He won two Grammy Awards: l962 for “Moon River” and l964 for “Days of Wine and Roses.” He was nominated in l971 for “Darling Lili.”
*He was nominated four times (l963, l964, 1966) for a Laurel Award and won in l962 for “Moon River.”
*The Black River in Savannah, GA was renamed “Moon River” in 1962 in honor of Mercer.
*The city of Savannah erected a life-size, bronze statue of Mercer in the Ellis Park, downtown Savannah in 2009.

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