Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World
John Herndon “Johnny” Mercer (1909–76) remained in the forefront of American popular music from the 1930s through the 1960s, writing over a thousand songs, collaborating with all the great popular composers and jazz musicians of his day, working in Hollywood and on Broadway, and as cofounder of Capitol Records, helping to promote the careers of Nat “King” Cole, Margaret Whiting, Peggy Lee, and many other singers. Mercer's songs—sung by Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, and scores of other performers—are canonical parts of the great American songbook. Four of his songs received Academy Awards: “Moon River,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” and “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.” Mercer standards such as “Hooray for Hollywood” and “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” remain in the popular imagination.
Exhaustively researched, Glenn T. Eskew's biography improves upon earlier popular treatments of the Savannah, Georgia–born songwriter to produce a sophisticated, insightful, evenhanded examination of one of America's most popular and successful chart-toppers. Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World provides a compelling chronological narrative that places Mercer within a larger framework of diaspora entertainers who spread a southern multiracial culture across the nation and around the world. Eskew contends that Mercer and much of his music remained rooted in his native South, being deeply influenced by the folk music of coastal Georgia and the blues and jazz recordings made by black and white musicians. At Capitol Records, Mercer helped redirect American popular music by commodifying these formerly distinctive regional sounds into popular music. When rock 'n' roll diminished opportunities at home, Mercer looked abroad, collaborating with international composers to create transnational songs.
At heart, Eskew says, Mercer was a jazz musician rather than a Tin Pan Alley lyricist, and the interpenetration of jazz and popular song that he created expressed elements of his southern heritage that made his work distinctive and consistently kept his music before an approving audience.
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Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the WorldUser Review - Book Verdict
Eskew (But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle) chronicles the life of great American singer and songwriter Johnny Mercer (1909–1976; "Moon River," "Hooray for Hollywood," "Days of Wine and Roses"), shedding light on both his personal life and musical career. Born in Savannah, Mercer remained true to his Southern roots even as he lived and worked in New York City and Hollywood and traveled around the world. Whether on the stage, on the radio, on television, or in film, he appealed to an ever-growing audience as many Southerners moved to other areas of the country. The author describes the major bands and musicians with whom Mercer worked, including Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Nat "King" Cole, Judy Garland, and many others. In doing so, Eskew brings to life the vibrant music scene around the musician from the 1930s to the 1960s and uncovers the collaborations, friendships, and struggles that made Mercer a success. VERDICT This thoroughly researched and compelling biography will appeal to scholars and students of popular American music.—Emily Hamstra, Univ. of Michigan Libs., Ann Arbor
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