Pictured above: Joe Gransden and Tierney Sutton headline the Johnny Mercer Tribute at the Rialto Center for the Arts.

All about Johnny

Johnny Mercer’s name became a symbol for a standard of excellence in songwriting, as in: “Yeah, I’m a good songwriter, but I’m no Johnny Mercer.” Even the crème de la crème thought of Mercer in another league. When singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson was asked who he considered the greatest lyricist of all, his response was swift and unequivocal. “Johnny Mercer,” he said. “Anyone who can rhyme ‘aurora borealis’ with ‘red and ruby chalice’ is not bad.”

“Yeah, I’m a good songwriter, but I’m no Johnny Mercer.”

John Henderson (Johnny) Mercer was born Nov. 18, 1909, in Savannah, and became one of America’s first and foremost performing songwriters. His songs — from the lighthearted “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” to the romantic “Laura,” from the dramatic “Come Rain or Come Shine” and cinematic “Hooray for Hollywood” to the timeless “Moon River” — have been heard by millions of people worldwide on recordings, radio, films, TV programs and Broadway.

Mercer’s lyrics were specific and one-of-a-kind, reflecting his Southern roots, his appreciation for nature, and his love of family. He portrayed the pastoral, sentimental South as opposed to the hustle and bustle of cities so often portrayed in popular song.

Mercer wrote the lyrics to more than 1,400 tunes, plus another 100 for the movies. He won four best-song Academy Awards (for “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses”) amid a total of 18 nominations. His legacy includes 23 theatrical productions that feature his lyrics and/or music.

There’s more…

Mercer was a popular radio personality and recording artist. He cofounded and served as president of Capitol Records; nurtured such artists as Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Margaret Whiting, Jo Stafford, and Peggy Lee; and helped establish the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He died June 25, 1976, in Los Angeles, and is buried in Savannah’s historic Bonaventure Cemetery. The Johnny Mercer Collections, including his papers and memorabilia, are preserved in the Georgia State University library.

This concert is made possible by generous support from The Johnny Mercer Foundation and the Georgia State University Library.

Johnny Mercer Tribute featuring Joe Gransden with Special Guest Tierney Sutton will play the Rialto Center for the Arts on Friday, Feb. 7, at 8pm.

About those tickets…

Click here to purchase tickets starting at $22.40 (plus applicable fees).

This piece appears in the Rialto’s Winter 2020 issue of Encore Atlanta. Click here to read the full issue.

About Sally Henry Fuller

A theatre aficionado with a passion for telling people's stories, Sally Henry Fuller is a performing arts journalist. She has had the privilege of interviewing both local theatre professionals and multi-award-winning celebrities including Carol Burnett, Matthew Morrison, Vanessa Williams, Josh Gad, and Taylor Hicks. With theatre journalism experience since 2011, her work has also been featured on BroadwayWorld.com, the Huffington Post, and the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Festival.

View all posts by Sally Henry Fuller