Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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MERCER, Johnny

(b 18 November 1909, Savannah GA; d 25 June 1976, Los Angeles CA) Composer, lyricist, singer, co-founder of Capitol Records. He had hit duets on Decca '38-40 with Bing Crosby; 25 more hits on Capitol '42-52 included number ones '45-6 with Mack David's 'Candy' (duet with Jo Stafford), also his own 'Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive' (from film Here Come The Waves) and Oscar-winning 'On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe' (with Harry Warren, from The Harvey Girls); he also shared Oscars for 'In The Cool Cool Cool Of The Evening' '51 (with Hoagy Carmichael), 'Moon River' '61 and 'Days Of Wine And Roses' '62 with Henry Mancini.

He was a director of ASCAP '40-1. He wrote or co-wrote more than 1,000 songs, one of the best-loved, most admired figures in U.S. music, nearly every lyric intelligent, optimistic, memorable; and his singing had the same qualities. He wrote words/music for 'I'm An Old Cowhand' '36, 'Dream (When You're Feeling Blue)' '45, others; hits/collaborators included 'Blues In The Night', 'That Old Black Magic', 'One For My Baby', 'Come Rain Or Come Shine' (with Harold Arlen); 'Lazy Bones', 'How Little We Know', 'Skylark' (Carmichael); 'Tangerine' and 'I Remember You' (Victor Schertzinger; the latter a no. 1 hit '42 by Jimmy Dorsey); 'Jeepers Creepers' and 'You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby' (Warren); also 'Satin Doll' (Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington), 'Early Autumn' (Ralph Burns), 'You Were Never Lovelier' (Jerome Kern), 'P.S. I Love You' (Gordon Jenkins; written '34, big hit single for the Hilltoppers nearly 20 years later), 'When A Woman Loves A Man' (with Jenkins and Bernie Hanighan; classic record by Billie Holiday), 'Laura' (David Raksin), 'Too Marvelous For Words' (Richard Whiting; see entry for Margaret Whiting), 'Day In -- Day Out' (Rube Bloom, b 24 April 1902 NYC; d there 30 March 1976, also wrote 'Fools Rush In', 'Spring Fever', etc), many more.

He sang with Benny Goodman on the  radio; his own shows included Johnny Mercer's Music Shop '43-4 with Paul Whiteman as music director; the sidemen were ex-Bob Crosby band. Broadway shows included St Louis Woman '46, Top Banana, Li'l Abner and Saratoga in the 1950s; he contributed to musical films Hollywood Hotel '37, The Fleet's In '42, about 30 more; wrote songs for Seven Brides For Seven Brothers '54 with Gene de Paul. Albums included a duet with Bobby Darin Two Of A Kind on Atco.

Mercer was a mean drunk who sometimes behaved so badly that he had to send people presents the nesxt day; more than once the presents were sent back. Yet a lot of people loved him. Gene Lees published biography Portrait of Johnny: The LIfe of John Herndon Mercer (2006). Mosaic Records published a Mosaic Select set (a limited edition 3-CD set) of 79 Mercer tracks from Capitol 1942-47; see it here. See entry for Capitol for some Mercer stories.