Who can forget seeing the radiant young Audrey Hepburn sitting on the fire escape of a Manhattan apartment, strumming a guitar and singing “Moon River”? This theme song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, won Mercer his third Oscar in 1961.
Moon River/Wider than a mile/ I’m crossing you in style someday/
Old dream maker/ You heartbreaker/ wherever you’re goin’/
I’m goin’ your way…….
November 18, 2009 marked the 100th birthday of this quintessentially American lyricist and composer, Savannah Georgia’s most famous musical son.
Josh was privileged to attend the festivities marking this centennial in Atlanta as a keynote speaker at the international conference that celebrated Mercer’s rich musical legacy. Georgia State University, which hosted this event, is the home of his collected papers.
We’re reminded of the great number of Johnny’s songs that still sing to us, such as:
Ac-cent-uate the Positive
Blues in the Night
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening
One for My Baby
There is an enduring attraction in the music of this child of the South, who was so often inspired by the beauty and fragrance of the landscape he knew as a child.
It would be hard to resist the romance of these words he wrote about his boyhood summers in the country: “The roads were still unpaved, made of crushed oyster shell, and as they wound their way under the trees covered with Spanish moss, it was a sweet, indolent background for a boy to grow up in. Savannah was smaller then and sleepy, full of trees and azaleas that filled the parks which make it so beautiful….”
Mercer has a great gift for making us smile with him at his fun with language and respond with complex emotions to the memories he evokes. His lyrics bring out the message of the music so fully that it’s almost impossible to imagine these songs sounding right with any other words.
Listen to specially chosen renditions of two of his songs here. One is sung by Johnny Mercer himself, the other by Barbra Streisand.