John Herndon Mercer
Lyricist, Vocalist, Record Company Executive
Johnny Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia, and he called upon the imagery of the southern landscape and its idiosyncrasies of speech for his lyrics. His relaxed and charming singing style also reflected the gentile South. He came to New York and, fortunately for posterity, failed to get a role in a 1930 show, contributing a song instead and turning his attention to music. As a vocalist he racked up 29 hits between 1938 and 1952, and as a lyricist he holds the record for the most #1 songs on the “Hit Parade”.
Mercer collaborated with the great songwriters. His lyrics were hip, and he was a magician with words. Of some 1500 songs, his first hit was Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazybones” (1933), followed by “Skylark” (1941). He and his partner for a decade, Harold Arlen, hit the charts with “Blues in the Night” (1941) and “That Old Black Magic” (1942). In 1944 Bing Crosby introduced their “Accentuate the Positive” in Here Come the Waves.
In 1942 Mercer wrote lyrics for “I’m Old-Fashioned” (Jerome Kern) and for “I Remember You” and “Tangerine” (Victor Schertzinger) and became one of the founders of Capitol Records. In 1947 he collaborated with Sonny Burke and Lionel Hampton on the jazz classic “Midnight Sun,” and in 1958 he added lyrics to the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn instrumental “Satin Doll”.
During Mercer’s active film career he supplied lyrics to David Raksin’s haunting theme for Laura (1945) and to Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” (The Americanization of Emily, 1964). Among his Oscar winners are “On the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe” with Harry Warren (1946) and “Moon River” with Henry Mancini (1961). He also scored several Broadway shows, including Li’l Abner, 1959.
Mercer is one of the songwriters honored by a stamp from the U.S. Postal Service in 1996.
-- Sandra Burlingame
Courtesy of JazzStandards.com