Celebrating the birthday of Johnny Mercer
(November 18, 1909 – June 25, 1976)
“It takes more talent to write music, but it takes more courage to write lyrics.”
John Herndon Mercer 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.
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 those 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. He wrote the lyrics to more than fifteen hundred songs, including compositions for movies and Broadway shows. He received nineteen Academy Award nominations, and won four Best Original Song Oscars.
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.
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.
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.