Johnny Mercer

Last updated
Johnny Mercer
Johnny Mercer, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948 (William P. Gottlieb 06121).jpg
Johnny Mercer, c. 1947
Background information
Birth nameJohn Herndon Mercer
Born(1909-11-18)November 18, 1909
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
DiedJune 25, 1976(1976-06-25) (aged 66)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Occupation(s) Songwriter, Lyricist, Record producer, Record label Owner, Record executive.
Years active1930–1976
Associated acts Richard A. Whiting, Bing Crosby, Margaret Whiting, The Pied Pipers, Bobby Darin, Harry Warren, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Gene de Paul, Henry Mancini

John Herndon Mercer (November 18, 1909 – June 25, 1976) was an American lyricist, songwriter, and singer. He was also a record label executive who co-founded Capitol Records with music industry businessman Buddy DeSylva and Glenn E. Wallichs. [1]

A lyricist or lyrist is a person who writes lyrics—words for songs—as opposed to a composer, who writes the song's music which may include but not limited to the melody, harmony, arrangement and accompaniment.

A songwriter is a professional that writes lyrics and composes musical compositions for songs. A songwriter can also be called a composer, although the latter term tends to be used mainly for individuals from the classical music genre and film scoring, but is also associated writing and composing the original musical composition or musical bed. A songwriter that writes the lyrics/words are referred to as lyricist. The pressure from the music industry to produce popular hits means that songwriting is often an activity for which the tasks are distributed between a number of people. For example, a songwriter who excels at writing lyrics might be paired with a songwriter with the task of creating original melodies. Pop songs may be written by group members from the band or by staff writers – songwriters directly employed by music publishers. Some songwriters serve as their own music publishers, while others have outside publishers.

A record label, or record company, is a brand or trademark associated with the marketing of music recordings and music videos. Sometimes, a record label is also a publishing company that manages such brands and trademarks, coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos, while also conducting talent scouting and development of new artists, and maintaining contracts with recording artists and their managers. The term "record label" derives from the circular label in the center of a vinyl record which prominently displays the manufacturer's name, along with other information. Within the mainstream music industry, recording artists have traditionally been reliant upon record labels to broaden their consumer base, market their albums, and be both promoted and heard on music streaming services, radio, and television. Record labels also provide publicists, who assist performers in gaining positive media coverage, and arrange for their merchandise to be available via stores and other media outlets.


He is best known as a Tin Pan Alley lyricist, but he also composed music. He was also a popular singer who recorded his own songs as well as songs written by others. From the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s, many of the songs Mercer wrote and performed were among the most popular hits of the time, including "Moon River", "Days of Wine and Roses", "Autumn Leaves", and "Hooray for Hollywood". He wrote the lyrics to more than 1,500 songs, including compositions for movies and Broadway shows. He received nineteen Academy Award nominations, and won four Best Original Song Oscars.

Tin Pan Alley group of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century

Tin Pan Alley is the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place: West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Flower District of Manhattan; a plaque on the sidewalk on 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth commemorates it. In 2019 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission took up the question of preserving five buildings on the north side of the street as a Tin Pan Alley Historic District.

Moon River Song

"Moon River" is a song composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The song also won the 1962 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

"Days of Wine and Roses" is a popular song, from the 1962 movie of the same name.

Early life

The historic Mercer House in Savannah, Georgia I Mercer House, Savannah, GA, USA (2).jpg
The historic Mercer House in Savannah, Georgia

Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia. His father, George Anderson Mercer, was a prominent attorney and real-estate developer, and his mother, Lillian Elizabeth (née Ciucevich), George Mercer's secretary and second wife, was the daughter of a Croatian immigrant father and a mother with Irish ancestry. Lillian's father, born in Lastovo, in 1834 to parents Ivana Cucevic and Marijo Dundovic, was a merchant seaman who ran the Union blockade during the U.S. Civil War. [2] Mercer was George's fourth son, first by Lillian. His great-grandfather was Confederate General Hugh Weedon Mercer and he was a direct descendant of American Revolutionary War General Hugh Mercer, a Scottish soldier-physician who died at the Battle of Princeton. Mercer was also a distant cousin of General George S. Patton. [3] The construction of Mercer House in Savannah was started by General Hugh Weedon Mercer in 1860 (although never finished by him; the next owners of the house finished it); it was later the home of Jim Williams, whose trial for murder was the centerpiece of John Berendt's book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Neither the General, nor Mercer himself, ever lived there.

Savannah, Georgia City in the United States

Savannah is the oldest city in the U.S. state of Georgia and is the county seat of Chatham County. Established in 1733 on the Savannah River, the city of Savannah became the British colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. A strategic port city in the American Revolution and during the American Civil War, Savannah is today an industrial center and an important Atlantic seaport. It is Georgia's fifth-largest city, with a 2018 estimated population of 145,862. The Savannah metropolitan area, Georgia's third-largest, had an estimated population of 389,494 in 2018.

Georgia (U.S. state) U.S. state in the United States

Georgia is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. Georgia is the 24th largest in area and 8th-most populous of the 50 United States. Georgia is bordered to the north by Tennessee and North Carolina, to the northeast by South Carolina, to the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by Florida, and to the west by Alabama. The state's nicknames include the Peach State and the Empire State of the South. Atlanta, a "beta(+)" global city, is both the state's capital and largest city. The Atlanta metropolitan area, with an estimated population of 5,949,951 in 2018, is the 9th most populous metropolitan area in the United States and contains about 60% of the entire state population.

Croatia sovereign republic in Southeast Europe

Croatia, officially the Republic of Croatia, is a country at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, on the Adriatic Sea. It borders Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the northeast, Serbia to the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to the southeast, sharing a maritime border with Italy. Its capital, Zagreb, forms one of the country's primary subdivisions, along with twenty counties. Croatia has an area of 56,594 square kilometres and a population of 4.28 million, most of whom are Roman Catholics.

Mercer liked music as a small child and attributed his musical talent to his mother, who would sing sentimental ballads. Mercer's father also sang, mostly old Scottish songs. His aunt told him he was humming music when he was six months old and later she took him to see minstrel and vaudeville shows where he heard "coon songs" and ragtime. [4] The family's summer home "Vernon View" was on the tidal waters and Mercer's long summers there among mossy trees, saltwater marshes, and soft, starry nights inspired him years later. [5]

Coon song genre of music that presented a stereotype of black people

Coon songs were a genre of music that presented a stereotype of black people. They were popular in the United States and the United Kingdom from around 1880 to 1920, though the earliest such songs date from minstrel shows as far back as 1848.

Mercer's exposure to black music was perhaps unique among the white songwriters of his generation. As a child, Mercer had African-American playmates and servants, and he listened to the fishermen and vendors about him, who spoke and sang in the dialect known as "Geechee". He was also attracted to black church services. Mercer later stated, "Songs always fascinated me more than anything." [6] He had no formal musical training but was singing in a choir by six and at 11 or 12 he had memorized almost all of the songs he had heard and became curious about who wrote them. He once asked his brother who the best songwriter was, and his brother said Irving Berlin, among the best of Tin Pan Alley. [7]

Irving Berlin American songwriter

Irving Berlin was an American composer and lyricist, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. His music forms a great part of the Great American Songbook. Born in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States at the age of five. He published his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy", in 1907, receiving 33 cents for the publishing rights, and had his first major international hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in 1911. He also was an owner of the Music Box Theatre on Broadway. It is commonly believed that Berlin could not read sheet music, and was such a limited piano player that he could only play in the key of F-sharp unless using his custom piano equipped with a transposing lever.

Despite Mercer's early exposure to music, his talent was clearly in creating the words and singing, not in playing music, though early on he had hoped to become a composer. In addition to the lyrics that Mercer memorized, he was an avid reader and wrote adventure stories. His attempts to play the trumpet and piano were not successful, and he never could read musical scores with any facility, relying instead on his own notation system. [8]

As a teenager in the Jazz Era, he was a product of his age. He hunted for records in the black section of Savannah and played such early black jazz greats as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong. His father owned the first car in town, and Mercer's teenage social life was enhanced by his driving privilege, which sometimes verged on recklessness. [9] The family would motor to the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina to escape the Savannah heat and there Mercer learned to dance (from Arthur Murray himself) and to flirt with Southern belles, his natural sense of rhythm helping him on both accounts. (Later, Mercer wrote a humorous song called "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry".)

Mercer attended the exclusive Woodberry Forest School in Virginia until 1927. Although not a top student, he was active in literary and poetry societies and as a humor writer for the school's publications. In addition, his exposure to classic literature augmented his already rich store of vocabulary and phraseology. He began to scribble ingenious, sometimes strained, rhymed phrases for later use. Mercer was also the class clown and a prankster, and member of the "hop" committee that booked musical entertainment on campus. [10]

Mercer was already somewhat of an authority on jazz at an early age. His yearbook stated, "No orchestra or new production can be authoritatively termed 'good' until Johnny's stamp of approval has been placed upon it. His ability to 'get hot' under all conditions and at all times is uncanny." [11] Mercer began to write songs, an early effort being "Sister Susie, Strut Your Stuff", and quickly learned the powerful effect songs had on girls. [12]

Given his family's proud history and association with Princeton, New Jersey, and Princeton University, [13] Mercer was destined for school there until his father's financial setbacks in the late 1920s changed those plans. He went to work in his father's recovering business, collecting rent and running errands, but soon grew bored with the routine and with Savannah, and looked to escape.


Starting out

Mercer moved to New York in 1928, when he was 19. The music he loved, jazz and blues, was booming in Harlem and Broadway was bursting with musicals and revues from George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. Vaudeville, though beginning to fade, was still a strong musical presence. Mercer's first few jobs were as a bit actor (billed as John Mercer). Holed up in a Greenwich Village apartment with plenty of time on his hands and a beat-up piano to play, Mercer soon returned to singing and lyric writing. [14] He secured a day job at a brokerage house and sang at night. Pooling his meager income with that of his roommates, Mercer managed to keep going, sometimes on little more than oatmeal. One night he dropped in on Eddie Cantor backstage to offer a comic song, but although Cantor didn't use the song, he began encouraging Mercer's career. [15] Mercer's first lyric, for the song "Out of Breath (and Scared to Death of You)", composed by friend Everett Miller, appeared in a musical revue The Garrick Gaieties in 1930. Mercer met his future wife at the show, chorus girl Ginger Meehan. She had earlier been one of the many chorus girls pursued by the young crooner Bing Crosby. Through Miller's father, an executive at the prominent music publisher T. B. Harms, Mercer's first song was published. [16] It was recorded by Joe Venuti and his New Yorkers.

The 20-year-old Mercer began to hang out with other songwriters and to learn the trade. He traveled to California to undertake a lyric writing assignment for the musical Paris in the Spring and met his idols Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Mercer found the experience sobering and realized that he much preferred free-standing lyric writing to writing on demand for musicals. Upon his return, he got a job as staff lyricist for Miller Music for a $25-a-week draw which give him a base income and enough prospects to win over and marry Ginger in 1931. [17] The new Mrs. Mercer quit the chorus line and became a seamstress, and to save money the newlyweds moved in with Ginger's mother in Brooklyn. Johnny did not inform his own parents of his marriage until after the fact, perhaps in part because he knew that Ginger being Jewish would not sit comfortably with some members of his family, and he worried they would try to talk him out of marrying her. In 1932, Mercer won a contest to sing with the Paul Whiteman orchestra, but it did not help his situation significantly. He made his recording debut, singing with Frank Trumbauer's Orchestra, on April 5 of that year. Mercer then apprenticed with Yip Harburg on the score for Americana, a Depression-flavored revue famous for "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (not a Mercer composition), which gave Mercer invaluable training. After several songs which didn't catch fire, during his time with Whiteman, he wrote and sang "Pardon My Southern Accent". Mercer's fortunes improved dramatically with a chance pairing with Indiana-born Hoagy Carmichael, already famous for the standard "Stardust", who was intrigued by the "young, bouncy butterball of a man from Georgia." [18] The two spent a year laboring over "Lazybones", which became a hit one week after its first radio broadcast, and each received a large royalty check of $1250. [19] A regional song in pseudo-black dialect, it captured the mood of the times, especially in rural America. Mercer became a member of ASCAP and a recognized "brother" in the Tin Pan Alley fraternity, receiving congratulations from Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter among others. Paul Whiteman lured Mercer back to his orchestra (to sing, write comic skits and compose songs), temporarily breaking up the working team with Carmichael.

During the golden age of sophisticated popular song of the late Twenties and early Thirties, songs were put into revues with minimal regard for plot integration. The 1930s saw a shift from revues to stage and movie musicals using song to further the plot. Demand diminished accordingly for the pure stand-alone songs that Mercer preferred. Thus, although he had established himself in the New York music world, when he was offered a job in Hollywood to compose songs and perform in low-budget musicals for RKO, he accepted and followed idol Bing Crosby west. [20]

Hollywood years

It was only when Mercer moved to Hollywood in 1935 that his career was assured.

Writing songs for movies offered two distinct advantages. The use of sensitive microphones for recording and of the lip-synching of pre-recorded songs liberated songwriters from dependence on the long vowel endings and long sustained notes required for live performance. Performers such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could now sing more conversationally and more nonchalantly. Mercer, as a singer, was attuned to this shift and his style fit the need perfectly. [21]

Mercer's first Hollywood assignment was not the Astaire-Rogers vehicle of which he had dreamed but a B-movie college musical, Old Man Rhythm, to which he contributed two undistinguished songs and even worse acting. His next project, To Beat the Band, was another flop, but it did lead to a meeting and a collaboration with Fred Astaire on the moderately successful Astaire song "I'm Building Up to an Awful Let-Down".

Nearly overwhelmed by the glitter of Hollywood, Mercer found his beloved jazz and nightlife lacking. As he wrote, "Hollywood was never much of a night town. Everybody had to get up too early... the movie people were in bed with the chickens (or each other)." [22] Mercer was now in Bing Crosby's hard-drinking circle and enjoyed Crosby's company and hipster talk. Unfortunately, Mercer also began to drink more at parties and was prone to vicious outbursts when under the influence of alcohol, contrasting sharply with his ordinarily genial and gentlemanly behavior. [23] Often he would assuage the guilt he felt for this behavior by sending roses the following day to the friend or acquaintance he had treated unkindly while drunk. [24]

Mercer's first big Hollywood song "I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande" was inspired by a road trip through Texas (he wrote both the music and the lyric). It was performed by Crosby in the film Rhythm on the Range in 1936, and from thereon the demand for Mercer as a lyricist took off. His second hit that year was "Goody Goody". In 1937, Mercer began employment with the Warner Brothers studio, working with the veteran composer Richard Whiting ( Ain't We Got Fun? ), soon producing his standard, "Too Marvelous for Words", followed by "Hooray for Hollywood". After Whiting's sudden death from a heart attack, Mercer joined forces with Harry Warren and created "Jeepers Creepers", which earned Mercer his first Oscar nomination for Best Song (1938). It was given a memorable recording by Louis Armstrong. Another hit with Warren in 1938 was "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby". The pair also created "Hooray for Spinach", a comic song produced for the film Naughty but Nice in 1939.

During a lull at Warners, Mercer revived his singing career. He joined Bing Crosby's informal minstrel shows put on by the "Westwood Marching and Chowder Club", which included many Hollywood luminaries and brought together Crosby and Bob Hope. [25] A duet "Mr. Crosby and Mr. Mercer" was recorded and became a hit in 1938.

In 1939, Mercer wrote the lyrics to a melody by Ziggy Elman, a trumpet player with Benny Goodman. The song was "And the Angels Sing" and, although recorded by Bing Crosby and Count Basie, it was the Goodman version with vocal by Martha Tilton and memorable klezmer style trumpet solo by Elman that became the Number One hit. Years later, the title was inscribed on Mercer's tombstone.

Mercer was invited to the Camel Caravan radio show in New York to sing his hits and create satirical songs with the Benny Goodman orchestra, then becoming the emcee of the nationally broadcast show for several months. Two more hits followed shortly, "Day In, Day Out" and "Fools Rush In", and Mercer in short order had five of the top ten songs on the popular radio show Your Hit Parade. [26] Mercer also started a short-lived publishing company during his stay in New York. On a lucky streak, Mercer undertook a musical with Hoagy Carmichael, but Walk with Music (originally called Three After Three) was a bomb, with story quality not matching that of the score. Another disappointment for Mercer was the selection of Johnny Burke as the long-term songwriter for the Hope-Crosby "Road" pictures. Still, Mercer was thirty and his life and career were riding high.

Shortly thereafter, Mercer met an ideal musical collaborator in the form of Harold Arlen whose jazz and blues-influenced compositions provided Mercer's sophisticated, idiomatic lyrics a perfect musical vehicle. Now Mercer's lyrics began to display the combination of sophisticated wit and southern regional vernacular that characterize some of his best songs. Their first hit was "Blues in the Night" (1941), which Arthur Schwartz claimed was "probably the greatest blues song ever written." [27]

They went on to compose "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" (1941), "That Old Black Magic" (1942), [28] and Come Rain or Come Shine" (1946) among others. [29]

Frank Sinatra was particularly successful with the first two and Bing Crosby with the third. "Come Rain" was Mercer's only Broadway hit, composed for the show St. Louis Woman with Pearl Bailey. "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" with music by Harry Warren, was a big smash for Judy Garland in the 1946 film The Harvey Girls , and earned Mercer the first of his four Academy Awards for Best Song, after eight unsuccessful nominations.

Mercer re-united with Hoagy Carmichael with "Skylark" (1941), [28] and the Oscar-winning "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" (1951). With Jerome Kern, Mercer created You Were Never Lovelier for Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in the movie of the same name, [28] as well as "I'm Old Fashioned".

Mercer founded Capitol Records in Hollywood in 1942, with the help of producer Buddy DeSylva and record store owner Glen Wallichs. [1] He also co-founded Cowboy Records.

Mercer by the mid-1940s enjoyed a reputation as one of the premier Hollywood lyricists. He was adaptable, listening carefully and absorbing a tune and then transforming it into his own style. Like Irving Berlin, he was a close follower of cultural fashion and changing language, which in part accounted for the long tenure of his success. Mercer preferred to have the music first, taking it home and working on it. He claimed composers had no problem with this method provided that he returned with the lyrics. Only with Arlen and Whiting did Mercer occasionally work side-by-side.

Mercer was often asked to write new lyrics to already popular tunes. The lyrics to "Laura", "Midnight Sun", and "Satin Doll" were all written after the melodies had become hits. He was also asked to compose English lyrics to foreign songs, the most famous example being "Autumn Leaves". based on the French "Les Feuilles Mortes".

Radio programs

In 1943, Johnny Mercer's Music Shop was a summer replacement for The Pepsodent Show on NBC. [30] Mercer was the star, and singers Ella Mae Morse and Jo Stafford were regulars on the program, with musical support from The Pied Pipers and Paul Weston and his orchestra. [31] The Chesterfield Music Shop, a similar program in a 15-minute version, was broadcast in 1944. [30]


In the 1950s, the advent of rock and roll and the transition of jazz into "bebop" cut deeply into Mercer's natural audience, and dramatically reduced venues for his songs. His continual string of hits came to an end but many great songs were still to come. Mercer wrote for some MGM films, including Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Merry Andrew (1958). He collaborated on three Broadway musicals in the 1950s—Top Banana (1951), Li'l Abner (1956), and Saratoga (1959).

Mercer made occasional television appearances. In the 1953–1954 season, he guest starred as himself on ABC's Jukebox Jury, a musical/quiz program on which celebrities judge the latest releases from the recording companies. [32] In 1954, he appeared on NBC's The Donald O'Connor Show.

His more successful songs of the 1950s include "The Glow-Worm" (sung by the Mills Brothers) and "Something's Gotta Give". In 1961, he wrote the lyrics to "Moon River" for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's and for Days of Wine and Roses, both with music by Henry Mancini, and Mercer received his third and fourth Oscars for Best Song. The back-to-back Oscars were the first time a songwriting team had achieved that feat. [33] Mercer, also with Mancini, wrote "Charade" for the 1963 Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn romantic thriller with the same name. The Tony Bennett classic "I Wanna Be Around" was written by Mercer in 1962, as was the Sinatra hit "Summer Wind" in 1965.

An indication of the high esteem in which Mercer was held can be observed in that in 1964 he became the only lyricist to have his work recorded as a volume of Ella Fitzgerald's celebrated Songbook albums for the Verve label. Yet Mercer always remained humble about his work, attributing much to luck and timing. He was fond of telling the story of how he was offered the job of doing the lyrics for Johnny Mandel's music on The Sandpiper, only to have the producer turn his lyrics down. The producer offered the commission to Paul Francis Webster and the result was "The Shadow of Your Smile" which became a huge hit, winning the 1965 Oscar for Best Original Song. However, Mercer and Mandel did collaborate on the 1964 song, Emily, from the motion picture, The Americanization of Emily starring Julie Andrews. [7]

In 1969, Mercer helped publishers Abe Olman and Howie Richmond found the National Academy of Popular Music's Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1971, Mercer presented a retrospective of his career for the "Lyrics and Lyricists Series" in New York, including an omnibus of his "greatest hits" and a performance by Margaret Whiting. It was recorded live as An Evening with Johnny Mercer. [34] In 1974, he collaborated on the West End production The Good Companions . He also recorded two albums of his songs in London in 1974, with the Pete Moore Orchestra and with the Harry Roche Constellation, later compiled into a single album and released as ...My Huckleberry Friend: Johnny Mercer Sings the Songs of Johnny Mercer .

Posthumous success

Self-portrait and signature of Johnny Mercer from bench at his grave in Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. Johnny Mercer.jpg
Self-portrait and signature of Johnny Mercer from bench at his grave in Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.

In his last year, Mercer became fond of pop singer Barry Manilow, in part because Manilow's first hit record was of a song titled "Mandy", which was also the name of Mercer's daughter Amanda. After Mercer's death in 1976 from a brain tumor, his widow, Ginger Mehan Mercer, arranged to give some unfinished lyrics he had written to Manilow to possibly develop into complete songs. Among these was a piece titled "When October Goes", a melancholy remembrance of lost love. Manilow applied his own melody to the lyric and issued it as a single in 1984, when it became a top 10 Adult Contemporary hit in the United States. The song has since become a jazz standard, with notable recordings by Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Wilson, and Megon McDonough, among other performers.

Singing style

Well regarded also as a singer, with a folksy quality, Mercer was a natural for his own songs such as "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive", "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe", "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)", and "Lazybones". He was considered a first-rate performer of his own work. [7]

It has been said that he penned "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)"—one of the great torch laments of all times—on a napkin while sitting at the bar at P. J. Clarke's when Tommy Joyce was the bartender. The next day Mercer called Joyce to apologize for the line "So, set 'em up, Joe," explaining "I couldn't get your name to rhyme."

ATCO Records issued Two of a Kind in 1961, a duet album by Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer with Billy May and his Orchestra, produced by Ahmet Ertegün.

Personal life

In 1931, Mercer married Ginger Meehan, a chorus girl, later a seamstress; and in 1940, when he was 30, the Mercers adopted a daughter, Amanda ("Mandy"). In 1960, Mandy married Bob Corwin, pianist for Peggy Lee, Anita O'Day, Carmen McRae, and Mercer's long time accompanist. They had a son Jim Corwin in 1961. [35]

In 1941, shortly after the death of his father, Mercer began an affair with 19-year-old Judy Garland while she was engaged to composer David Rose. Garland married Rose to stop the affair, but the effect on Mercer lingered, adding to the emotional depth of his lyrics. Their affair revived later. Mercer stated that his song "I Remember You" was the most direct expression of his feelings for Garland. [36]

Mercer died on June 25, 1976, from an inoperable brain tumor in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Mercer was buried in Savannah's historic Bonaventure Cemetery. [37] The simple line drawing caricature adorning his memorial bench is in fact a reproduction of a self-portrait.

Awards and legacy

Academy Awards

Mercer won four Academy Awards on eighteen nominations for Best Original Song:

Mercer was also nominated for Best Original Song Score for the 1970 Mancini collaboration Darling Lili . [38]


In 1980, the Songwriters Hall of Fame established the annual Johnny Mercer Award as its highest honor, for songwriters with a history of outstanding creative works. [39] Mercer was honored by the United States Postal Service with his portrait placed on a stamp in 1996. Mercer's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1628 Vine Street [40] is a block away from the Capitol Records building at 1750 Vine Street.

In 1983, Mercer earned a posthumous nomination for a Tony Award for Best Original Score for his original lyrics and for Gene de Paul's original music and score with new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn for the stage musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the 37th Tony Awards, [41] but lost to Andrew Lloyd Webber and T. S. Eliot for Cats .

Mercer was given tribute in John Berendt's 1994 book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The 1997 movie by Clint Eastwood based on Berendt's novel features prominently Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer song "Skylark", sung by k.d. lang. The movie soundtrack is a tribute album to Johnny Mercer, containing 14 Mercer songs performed by a variety of jazz and pop recording artists.

For the occasion of Mercer's 100th birthday in 2009 Clint Eastwood produced a documentary film on Johnny Mercer's life and work called The Dream's on Me (Turner Classic Movies). After airing on Turner Classic Movies, the film was nominated for a Primetime Emmy in the category of Outstanding Nonfiction Special.

The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer was published by Knopf [42] in October 2009. The Complete Lyrics contains the texts to nearly 1,500 of his lyrics, several hundred of them appearing in print for the first time.

In November 2009, a bronze statue of Mercer was unveiled in Ellis Square in Savannah, Georgia, his hometown and birthplace. It was commissioned by the Friends of Johnny Mercer.

The Johnny Mercer Collections, including his papers and memorabilia, are preserved in the library of Georgia State University in Atlanta. GSU occasionally holds events showcasing Mercer's works.

On March 25, 2015, it was announced that Mercer's version of the popular song "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" would be inducted into the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry for the song's "cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy". [43]


DateSong titleMusic byNotes
1933"Lazy Bones" Hoagy Carmichael
1934"P.S. I Love You" Gordon Jenkins
1936"Goody Goody" Matty Malneck
1936"I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande"Johnny Mercer
1937"Hooray for Hollywood" Richard A. Whiting
1937"Too Marvelous for Words" Richard A. Whiting
1938"Jeepers, Creepers!" Harry Warren
1938"You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" Harry Warren
1938"When a Woman Loves a Man" Bernie Hanighen, Gordon Jenkins
1939"And the Angels Sing" Ziggy Elman
1939"Cuckoo in the Clock" Walter Donaldson
1939"Day In, Day Out" Rube Bloom
1939"I Thought About You" Jimmy Van Heusen
1939"Wings Over the Navy" Harry Warren
1940"Fools Rush In" Rube Bloom
1941"Blues in the Night" Harold Arlen
1941"I Remember You" Victor Schertzinger
1941"Tangerine" Victor Schertzinger
1941"This Time the Dream's on Me" Harold Arlen
1942"Moon Dreams" Chummy MacGregor (co-writer)
1942"Dearly Beloved" Jerome Kern
1942"Hit the Road to Dreamland" Harold Arlen
1942"I'm Old Fashioned" Jerome Kern
1942"Skylark" Hoagy Carmichael
1942"That Old Black Magic" Harold Arlen
1942"Trav'lin' Light" Jimmy Mundy, Trummy Young
1943"Dream"Johnny Mercer
1943"My Shining Hour" Harold Arlen
1943"One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" Harold Arlen Theme for the 1957–1958 NBC detective series Meet McGraw
1944"Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" Harold Arlen
1944"G.I. Jive"Johnny Mercer
1945"Laura" David Raksin
1945"Out of This World" Harold Arlen
1946"Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" Harold Arlen
1946"I Had Myself a True Love" Harold Arlen
1946"Come Rain or Come Shine" Harold Arlen
1946"On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" Harry Warren For the film The Harvey Girls
1947"Autumn Leaves" Joseph Kosma, orig. French lyrics by Jacques Prévert
1951"In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" Hoagy Carmichael For the film Here Comes the Groom
1952"I Wanna Be a Dancing Man" Harry Warren
1952"The Glow-Worm" Paul Lincke
1953"Satin Doll" Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn
1954"Midnight Sun" Lionel Hampton, Sonny Burke
1954"Something's Gotta Give"Johnny Mercer
1956"I'm Past My Prime" Gene de Paul
1956"Jubilation T. Cornpone" Gene de Paul
1956"Bernardine"Johnny MercerFor the film Bernardine
1956"Technique"Johnny MercerFor the film Bernardine
1959"I Wanna Be Around"Johnny Mercer, Sadie Vimmerstedt
1961"Moon River" Henry Mancini For the film Breakfast at Tiffany's
1962"Days of Wine and Roses" Henry Mancini For the film Days of Wine and Roses
1962"Drinking Again"Doris Tauber
1963"Charade" Henry Mancini
1963"Meglio stasera" (It Had Better Be Tonight) Henry Mancini For the film The Pink Panther
1964"Emily" Johnny Mandel
1964"Lorna" Mort Lindsey
1964"Talk to Me, Baby" Bobby Dolan For the Broadway musical comedy Foxy
1965"Summer Wind"Henry Mayer
1970"Whistling Away the Dark" Henry Mancini For the film Darling Lili
1973"The Phony King of England"Johnny MercerFor the Disney film Robin Hood
1984"When October Goes" Barry Manilow From 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe
1988"If It Can't Be You" Barry Manilow
1988"At Last" Barry Manilow
1988"Heart of Mine, Cry On" Barry Manilow
1988"When The Meadow Was Bloomin' " Barry Manilow From With My Lover Beside Me (Nancy Wilson album)
1988"Just Remember" Barry Manilow From The Complete Collection and Then Some...
1988"Can't Teach My Old Heart New Tricks"Barry ManilowFrom The Complete Collection and Then Some...


Related Research Articles

Hoagy Carmichael American composer, pianist, singer, actor and bandleader

Hoagland Howard "Hoagy" Carmichael was an American singer, songwriter, and actor. American composer and author Alec Wilder described Carmichael as the "most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented of all the great craftsmen" of pop songs in the first half of the 20th century. Carmichael was one of the most successful Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1930s and was among the first singer-songwriters in the age of mass media to utilize new communication technologies, such as television and the use of electronic microphones and sound recordings.

Harold Arlen American composer of popular music

Harold Arlen was an American composer of popular music who composed over 500 songs, a number of which have become known worldwide. In addition to composing the songs for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, including the classic "Over the Rainbow", Arlen is a highly regarded contributor to the Great American Songbook. "Over the Rainbow" was voted the 20th century's No. 1 song by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Johnny Burke (lyricist) American lyricist

John Francis Burke was a lyricist, successful and prolific between the 1920s and 1950s. His work is considered part of the Great American Songbook.

"Something's Gotta Give" is a popular song with words and music by Johnny Mercer in 1954. It was published in 1955. It was written for and first performed by Fred Astaire in the 1955 musical film Daddy Long Legs, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1955 as Best Original Song, losing to "Love is a Many Splendored Thing".

Peter DeRose was an American composer of jazz and pop music during the era of Tin Pan Alley.

"They Can't Take That Away from Me" is a 1937 popular song with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. It was introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film Shall We Dance.

"Swinging on a Star" is an American pop standard with music composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke. It was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1944 film Going My Way, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song that year, and has been recorded by numerous artists since then. In 2004 it finished at #37 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

"P.S. I Love You" is a popular song with music by Gordon Jenkins and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. published in 1934.

Lazybones or "Lazy Bones" is a Tin Pan Alley song written in 1933, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Hoagy Carmichael.

"Too Marvelous for Words" is a popular song written in 1937. Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics for music composed by Richard Whiting. It was featured in the 1937 Warner Brothers film Ready, Willing and Able, as well as a production number in a musical revue on Broadway. The song has become a pop standard and has been recorded by many artists.

"Skylark" is an American popular song with lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Hoagy Carmichael, published in 1941. Carmichael wrote the melody, based on a Bix Beiderbecke cornet improvisation, as "Bix Licks," for a project to turn the novel Young Man With a Horn into a Broadway musical. After that project failed, Carmichael brought in Johnny Mercer to write lyrics for the song. Mercer said that he struggled for a year after he got the music from Carmichael before he could get the lyrics right. Mercer recalled that Carmichael initially called him several times about the lyrics but had forgotten about the song by the time Mercer finally wrote them. The yearning expressed in the lyrics was based on Mercer's longing for Judy Garland, with whom he had an affair. This song is considered a jazz standard. Additionally, it is believed to have inspired a long-running Buick car of the same name that was produced from 1953 to 1998.

"A Fine Romance" is a popular song composed by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, published in 1936.

"You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me" is a 1932 popular song with music by Harry Warren and the lyrics by Al Dubin, which became a standard. The lyrics of the song were noted for its references to addiction.

"Pennies from Heaven" is a 1936 American popular song with music by Arthur Johnston and lyrics by Johnny Burke. It was introduced by Bing Crosby with Georgie Stoll and his Orchestra in the 1936 film of the same name. It was recorded in the same year by Billie Holiday and afterwards performed by Jimmy Dorsey & his Orchestra, Arthur Tracy, Eddy Duchin, Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington, Clark Terry, Frances Langford, Big Joe Turner, Lester Young, Dean Martin, Gene Ammons, The Skyliners, Legion of Mary, Guy Mitchell, and Harry James.

"Day In, Day Out" is a popular song with music by Rube Bloom and lyrics by Johnny Mercer and published in 1939.

"You Took Advantage of Me" is a 1928 popular song composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, for the musical Present Arms (1928), where it was introduced by Joyce Barbour and Busby Berkeley as the characters Edna Stevens and Douglas Atwell. The characters were formerly married, but still have romantic feelings for each other. On opening night, Berkeley forgot the lyrics and had to scat and hum the entire second verse. Berkeley also claimed that his nonsense lyrics for the improvised second verse left Hart "almost apoplectic", but the audience was amused and Hart later forgave him. The song was subsequently included in the 1930 film Leathernecking, an adaptation of Present Arms.

Singer Rosemary Clooney is known for many songs, including "Come On-a My House", "Botch-a-Me", "Mambo Italiano", "Tenderly", "Half as Much", "Hey There" and "This Ole House". This is a partial discography.

Im an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande) 1936 song performed by Bing Crosby

"I'm an Old Cowhand " is a comic song written by Johnny Mercer for the film Rhythm on the Range and sung by its star, Bing Crosby. The Crosby commercial recording was made on July 17, 1936 with Jimmy Dorsey & his Orchestra for Decca Records. It was a huge hit in 1936 reaching the No. 2 spot in the charts of the day, and it greatly furthered Mercer's career. Crosby recorded the song again in 1954 for his album Bing: A Musical Autobiography.

"(Ah, the Apple Trees) When the World Was Young" is a popular song composed by Philippe-Gérard, with lyrics by Angèle Vannier. The English lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer. The original French title was "Le Chevalier de Paris". Apart from a reference to apples, the English lyrics have nothing to do with the French original poem.


  1. 1 2 "Johnny Mercer (1909–1976)". The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  2. Gene Lees, Portrait of Johnny: The Life of John Herndon Mercer, Pantheon Books, New York, 2004, ISBN   0-375-42060-6, p. 15.
  3. Lees, 2004, p. 11.
  4. Philip Furia, Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2003, ISBN   0-312-28720-8, p. 11.
  5. Lees, 2004, p. 21.
  6. Furia, 2003, pp. 12–13.
  7. 1 2 3 Wilk, Max (1997). They're Playing Our Song. Da Capo Press. ISBN   978-0918432797.
  8. Lees, 2004, p. 28.
  9. Furia, 2003, p. 22.
  10. Furia, 2003, p. 25.
  11. Furia, 2003, p. 26.
  12. Lees, 2004, p. 32.
  13. located in Mercer County, New Jersey, which is named after his 3rd-great-grandfather
  14. Furia, 2003, p. 39.
  15. Lees, 2004, p. 58.
  16. Lees, 2004, p. 61.
  17. Furia, 2003, p.61.
  18. Furia, 2003, p. 70.
  19. Furia, 2003, p. 73.
  20. Gottfried, Martin (1984). Broadway Musicals. New York: Abradale Press. ISBN   0-8109-8060-6.
  21. Furia 2003, p. 79.
  22. Lees 2004, p. 115.
  23. Furia 2003, p. 83.
  24. Steyn, Mark (November 19, 2009). "Johnny Mercer, Moon River and me". Maclean's. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  25. Furia 2003, p. 106.
  26. Furia 2003, p. 111.
  27. Bob Bach and Ginger Mercer, Our Huckleberry Friend: The Life, Times, and Lyrics of Johnny Mercer, Lyle Stuart, Secaucus New Jersey, 1982, ISBN   0-8184-0331-4, p. 98
  28. 1 2 3 Gilliland 1994 , cassette 1, side A.
  29. Furia, Philip (1992). Poets of Tin Pan Alley. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 151, 273–274. ISBN   0-19-507473-4.
  30. 1 2 Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 374. ISBN   978-0-19-507678-3.
  31. "'Johnny Mercer's Music Shop' subs for Hope". The Times. Louisiana, Shreveport. June 20, 1943. p. 14. Retrieved 26 March 2019 via
  32. Jukebox Jury: Research Video, Inc.: Music Footing Licensing Agency and Vintage Television Footage Archive
  33. Roger Hall, A Guide to Film Music: Songs and Scores, PineTree Press, 2007, p. 13.
  34. DRG 5176
  35. Paton, Chris. "Oral History Georgia State".
  36. Furia, 2003, pp. 130–131.
  37. Johnny Mercer at Find a Grave
  38. "Academy Awards Database". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
  39. "The Johnny Mercer Award Winners". The Johnny Mercer Foundation. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  40. "Johnny Mercer". NNDB. Retrieved November 15, 2006.
  41. "1983 Best Original Score (nominee)", accessed March 25, 2019
  42. The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer on the Random House website.

Further reading and listening