- 1909-11-18 - 1976-06-25
Johnny Mercer (John Herndon Mercer) was a native of Savannah, Georgia, who began writing songs at the age of fifteen and eventually became one of the foremost figures of 20th century American popular music. His catalog includes many numbers that have become American classics, and his activities as lyricist, composer, performer and businessman span a period of nearly five decades.
Mercer was born on November 18, 1909 to real estate investor George A. Mercer, Jr. and his wife Lillian. He spent his childhood and youth in Savannah, growing up in a household where music was much in evidence and in a region where the local culture combined the rich literary and language traditions of the South.
He left school in 1927 and worked in his father's business before traveling to New York as an actor where he received favorable notices for his performances. Mercer returned the following year trying to establish himself as an actor. He continued writing songs during this time (he had written his first song at age 15). When told that casting for the Garrick Gaieties of 1930 was complete but that the show still needed songs, he supplied "Out of Breath And Scared To Death of You." The song was included in the show, marking the start of his career as a professional songwriter.
From there Mercer went on to become one of America's major songwriters of the 1930s to the 1960s, despite his lack of formal musical training. He worked primarily in New York through the early 30s, producing the hit "Lazybones" with songwriter Hoagy Carmichael in 1933, and collaborating with various other writers including Harold Arlen and "Yip" Harburg.
Mercer's work in Hollywood resulted in a remarkable record of hit songs. During the decade between 1936 and 1946 his catalog grew to such songs as "Hooray for Hollywood," "Jeepers, Creepers," "Day In-Day Out," "Blues In The Night," "That Old Black Magic," "Tangerine," "Accentuate The Positive," "Dream," "On the Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" (Academy Award winner, 1946), and "Come Rain Or Come Shine." His film scores included Daddy Long Legs (1955), and stage productions included Top Banana (1951) and Li'l Abner (1956). Mercer attained distinction as a songwriter by receiving Oscars for three more of his songs between 1951 and 1962, namely "In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening" (1951), "Moon River" (1961) and "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962). Other songs from the period include "Glow-Worm," "Something's Gotta Give" and "Satin Doll."
In the end his catalog included over 1,400 songs, created over a period of 45 years, written by himself and in partnership with a remarkable number of America's most prominent popular composers. Mercer died from an inoperable brain tumor on June 25, 1976, in Los Angeles, CA.