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Johnny Mercer's main claim to immortality is his incredible songwriting output, penning the lyrics or music and lyrics to roughly 1,500 songs. Marked by a sophisticated, occasionally whimsical mastery of language and rhymes, many of Mercer's songs have become standards regularly covered by jazz artists. Yet he was also a successful singer, with a relaxed, Southern-accented, jazzy, rhythmically agile delivery that resulted in several major hits in the 1940s. At first, he was torn between acting and songwriting, but having failed to land a part in Garrick Gaities in 1930, he ended up writing his first hit, "Out of Breath, Scared to Death of You," for the show. His first charted songwriting hit was Ted Lewis' 1933 recording of "Lazybones." By 1938, he was recording duets with Bing Crosby for Decca and the following year, he was on Benny Goodman's Camel Cavalcade radio program as a featured singer. In 1942, he, Glenn Wallichs, and Buddy DeSylva founded Capitol Records, which would eventually become an industry behemoth, and Mercer reeled off a string of hits for his label, including "Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe," "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," "Candy," and "Personality." "Atchison" is an especially good example of his flip, catchy, vocal style. While running Capitol, Mercer the talent scout attracted the likes of Nat King Cole, Stan Kenton, Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee, and Margaret Whiting to the label, where they had their greatest successes. Among Mercer's most durable lyrics -- a highly abbreviated list -- are those for "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)," "Blues in the Night," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "My Shining Hour," and "Early Autumn," and his many collaborators have included Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Gordon Jenkins, and Harry Warren. He also contributed to the scores of seven Broadway musicals and films. Following an album with Bobby Darin and collaborations with Henry Mancini in the early '60s, Mercer's career slowed down under the onslaught of rock & roll, but time has since reconfirmed his status as an American popular music giant. ~ Richard S. Ginell
John Herndon Mercer
18 November 1909 in Savannah, GA
'40s, '50s, '60s, '70s