Friday, November 18, 2011

Our Huckleberry Friends...Happy Birthday, Johnny Mercer and Andrea Marcovicci!

My mama done tol' me, when I was in knee-pants
My mama done tol' me, "Son, a woman'll sweet talk"
And give ya the big eye, but when the sweet talkin's done
A woman's a two-face, a worrisome thing who'll leave ya to sing the blues in the night
-Lyrics, Blues In The Night,  Johnny Mercer

Happy Birthday, Johnny Mercer!
I truly believe that Johnny Mercer is one of the greatest lyricists that ever lived. At least one of the most prolific. Today's blog is a celebration of this man's musical legacy. Happy Birthday, Johnny Mercer! I will try and celebrate those as well who share a birthday with Mr. Mercer.

I can't imagine a world without the music of Mercer. I was born in 1961 and my favorite song of all time actually won the Academy Award the year I was born, Moon River. It gets me EVERYTIME I hear it!

John Herndon "Johnny" Mercer (November 18, 1909 – June 25, 1976) was an American lyricist, songwriter, and singer.
He is best known as a 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. Mercer was also a co-founder of Capitol Records.
Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia. His father, George Anderson Mercer, was a prominent attorney and real estate developer, and his mother, Lillian Elizabeth ( nee Ciucevich), George Mercer’s secretary and then second wife, was the daughter of Croatian-Irish immigrants who came to America in the 1850s. Lillian's father was a merchant seaman who ran the Union blockade during the U.S. Civil War.

Mercer was George's fourth son, first by Lillian. His great-grandfather was Confederate General Hugh Weedon Mercer and he was a direct descendant of American Revolutionary War General Hugh Mercer, a Scottish soldier-physician who died at the Battle of Princeton.
Mercer was also a distant cousin of General George S. Patton.
The construction of Mercer House in Savannah was started by General Hugh Weedon Mercer in 1860 (although never finished by him; the next owners of the house finished it), later the home of Jim Williams, whose trial for murder was the centerpiece of  John Berendt's book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, although neither the General nor Johnny ever lived there.

 Mercer liked music as a small child and attributed his musical talent to his mother, who would sing sentimental ballads.
Mercer's father also sang, mostly old Scottish songs. His aunt told him he was humming music when he was six months old and later she took him to see minstrel and vaudeville shows where he heard “coon songs” and ragtime.
The family’s summer home “Vernon View” was on the tidal waters and Mercer’s long summers there among mossy trees, saltwater marshes, and soft, starry nights inspired him years later.

 Mercer’s exposure to black music was perhaps unique among the white songwriters of his generation. As a child, Mercer had African-American playmates and servants, and he listened to the fishermen and vendors about him, who spoke and sang in the Creole dialect known as “Geechee”. He was also attracted to black church services. Mercer later stated, “Songs always fascinated me more than anything”.
He never had formal musical training but was singing in a choir by six and at eleven or twelve he had memorized almost all of the songs he had heard and he had become curious about who had written them.
He once asked his brother who the best songwriter was, and his brother said Irving Berlin, among the best of Tin Pan Alley.

As a teenager in the Jazz Era, he was a product of his age.
He hunted for records in the black section of Savannah and played such early black jazz greats as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong. His father owned the first car in town, and Mercer’s teenage social life was enhanced by his driving privilege, which sometimes verged on recklessness.
The family would motor to the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina to escape the Savannah heat and there Mercer learned to dance (from Arthur Murray himself) and to flirt with Southern belles, his natural sense of rhythm helping him on both accounts.


 Despite Mercer's early exposure to music, his talent was clearly in creating the words and singing, not in playing music, though early on he had hoped to become a composer. In addition to the lyrics that Mercer memorized, he was an avid reader and wrote adventure stories. However, his attempts to play the trumpet and piano were not successful, and he never could read musical scores with any facility, relying instead on his own notation system.
 Mercer attended exclusive Woodberry Forest boys prep school in Virginia until 1927. Though not a top student, he was active in literary and poetry societies and as a humor writer for the school’s publications. In addition, his exposure to classic literature augmented his already rich store of vocabulary and phraseology.
He began to scribble ingenious, sometimes strained rhymed phrases for later use. Mercer was also the class clown and a prankster, and member of the “hop” committee that booked musical entertainment on campus.

Mercer was already somewhat of an authority on jazz at an early age. His yearbook stated, “No orchestra or new production can be authoritatively termed ‘good’ until Johnny’s stamp of approval has been placed upon it. His ability to ‘get hot’ under all conditions and at all times is uncanny”.
Mercer began to write songs, an early effort being ‘’Sister Susie, Strut Your Stuff.” and quickly learned the powerful effect songs had on girls.

Given his family’s proud history and association with Princeton, New Jersey, and Princeton University,
Mercer was destined for school there until his father’s financial setbacks in the late 1920s changed those plans. He went to work in his father’s recovering business, collecting rent and running errands, but soon grew bored with the routine and with Savannah, and looked to escape. Mercer moved to New York in 1928, when he was 19. The music he loved, jazz and blues, was booming in Harlem and Broadway was bursting with musicals and revues from George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. Vaudeville, though beginning to fade, was still a strong musical presence. Mercer’s first few jobs were as a bit actor (billed as John Mercer).
Holed up in a Greenwich Village apartment with plenty of time on his hands and a beat-up piano to play, Mercer soon returned to singing and lyric writing.
He secured a day job at a brokerage house and sang at night. Pooling his meager income with that of his roommates, Mercer managed to keep going, sometimes on little more than oatmeal.
One night he dropped in on Eddie Cantor backstage to offer a comic song, but although Cantor didn’t use the song, he began encouraging Mercer’s career.Mercer's first lyric, for the song "Out of Breath (and Scared to Death of You)", composed by friend Everett Miller, appeared in a musical revue The Garrick Gaieties in 1930.
Mercer met his future wife at the show, chorus girl Ginger Meehan. Meehan had earlier been one of the many chorus girls pursued by the young crooner Bing Crosby.
Through Miller’s father, an executive at the famous publisher T. B. Harms, Mercer's first song was published. It was recorded by Joe Venuti and his New Yorkers.
To read more, go to Wikipedia

Andrea Marcovicci also shares a birthday with Mercer.

This Sunday, November 20th, : ELLA  and THE SONGBOOKS, "Friendship," ANDREA MARCOVICCI, LINDA LAVIN, Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre, A Be-A-Deejay Segment & More.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN can be heard every SUNDAY 9:00PM - 11:00PM (EST) over WBAI 99.5FM 

and on the web at

Andrew Gans has a wonderful interview with Andrea in today's 

I was a sophomore in college when the buzz about a new cabaret singer, actress Andrea Marcovicci, made its way from New York to Massachusetts, and one crisp winter day I headed to Boston from the Brandeis University campus to purchase her first (and still my favorite Marcovicci) recording, "Marcovicci Sings Movies." I rushed back to our radio station, where I had a weekly show about the music of Broadway and cabaret, to listen to the LP in one of the private listening booths.
I have a very vivid memory of listening to her rendition of "As Time Goes By," which was followed by the "Tootsie" anthem "It Might Be You," smiling broadly and thinking, "Okay, now I get all the fuss!" And, as unbelievable as it may seem, Marcovicci has been spellbinding audiences for more than two decades at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, where she is currently celebrating her 25th season at the famed venue with a brand-new show entitled No Strings. Her latest act, which plays through Dec. 30, features music director Shelly Markham on piano and Jered Egan on bass and is described as a "journey about life on the road: a warm, funny, heartfelt, and candid tale of Andrea's time spent traveling from city to city and what that bittersweet time has meant to her as a singer, an actress, a wife and mother." I recently had the chance to chat with the gifted artist, who spoke about her new show, her thoughts on TV singing competitions and the idea of returning to Broadway.

 Question: How did the idea for the No Strings show come about?
Andrea Marcovicci: When I knew I was going to celebrate my 25th anniversary [at the Algonquin] and I was thinking about doing a show about traveling for quite a while anyway, it really did seem to be appropriate to do a show about traveling when you think that I spent the last 25 years as a, what I call, road warrior. [Laughs.]
And, due to the extremely lucky gift of being invited back every year for 25 years, my number one destination is New York, is the Algonquin. It's an average of seven weeks, but it's been as long as nine, ten weeks.

It was once 16 weeks, and I became very adept at packing and leaving home, and after I first sang at the Algonquin, my name was established, and I was invited to travel and travel and travel and travel—not only around our country, but to London, Australia, Barcelona and, hopefully, even other places someday soon as well. But it became part of my life to be constantly traveling—constantly on the road going from place to place. And, it's a mixed blessing, and that's really what the show is about, this lucky mixed blessing, and I am homesick for my daughter and my life at home when I'm on the road, and I have a sense of restlessness when I'm at home, which is what happens when you are a road warrior.
[Laughs.] I related a great deal to the George Clooney movie as you can imagine, especially when he was walking through the airport with that almost dance-like finesse as he went through the security gates.
He had a kind of dance-like finesse to it and I related to it so much, but the whole movie I related to it as well—"Up in the Air"—because I have managed to stay on the road a great deal of the time for 25 years and still be able to create 25 new shows, fall in love, get married, have a child… [Laughs.]
Live a life! So, the show is about the songs that I've collected along the way and the many goodbyes I've had to say, and the many hellos as well.

Question: Since it's a show about your life and, I would imagine, your most personal show, how did you go about deciding what aspects of your life you wanted to talk about and what you didn't want to share?
Marcovicci: Well, a lot of it is based on the songs. "Two for the Road" is one of my favorite songs of all time. I share that with not only a lot of other performers, but with the audience members who love it. I've put a little story into the center of it about [my daughter] Alice and my husband, who I've separated from quite a while ago now. The opening song is "Sail Away" and "Let's Get Away From it All." I have a song—two songs—about Paris.
I have two songs about London. I have put in a very interesting section, "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" that goes into "It's Natural With You" and ends with "My Love is a Wanderer," which is basically dedicated to all wanderers.
And, I have quotes throughout the show about travel from Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli. [Laughs.] And, I have that lovely song "You Belong to Me," which doesn't sound like a song we all know until I say, "See the pyramids along the Nile"… And, "Here's to Us" is the encore because it's about the influence that Mabel's had on my life—Mabel Mercer. I have a brand-new song about the Algonquin itself. It was actually written quite a few years ago, but I have sung it very, very rarely.
It's called "Back at the Algonquin."
 Question: I know that originally the title of the show was going to be Travels of the Heart, but now it's No Strings. What did that difference mean to you?
Marcovicci: Two for the Road: Travels of the Heart began to sound a little sadder than the show really is, and No Strings is in reference to the Fred Astaire section, which has to do with the spring in your step when you hit an airport, and very most, especially, this frisson of excitement that I feel, still, to this day when I travel. No Strings really represents that feeling and the lightness of foot that I feel, and I felt that better reflected the overall geniality of the show. There's a lot of fun in it and some wacky fun, too. I'm finally singing "When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba." I've been talking about it for 25 years, and I've never sung it. [Laughs.] I'm finally singing it.
 Question: Is that by the guy who wrote "As Time Goes By"?
Marcovicci: Herman Hupfeld, yes. And, there's such charming songs in the show, and I definitely didn't want to lead the audience to thinking that there was a heavy heart in this show because there isn't. It's very light-hearted, and it may be more personal than my latest shows, which have been biographies of other people. I didn't want them to think that this was anything other than, although personal, it's definitely light-hearted and wise. Wise but light-hearted.

 Question: You mentioned before that it's your 25th year at the Algonquin.
Marcovicci: Yes, it's my 25th year. This is the time to come and celebrate. I'm amazed and honored and grateful to everyone that's brought me here, of course, most especially Donald Smith, who discovered me and brought me there 25 years ago after he had discovered and opened the room for Steve Ross and then Michael Feinstein.

Donald Smith, a champion of the American Songbook  and Andra Marcovicci
Happy Birthday, Andrea Macovicci and Johnny Mercer! I LOVE YOU BOTH!

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

Thank you, to all the entertainers mentioned in this blog! 

I love you ALL!! 

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!


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