Johnny Mercer was born in 1909 in Georgia to a comfortable white middle-class family but grew up listening to ragtime, spirituals, early jazz and black church music. As a young teen he was interested in poetry, music and making music.
At the age of 19 he moved to New York where he began to network with other songwriters and combine day jobs with attempts to break into show business and song writing. His first major success was ‘Lazybones’ a collaboration with Hoagy Carmichael which was a huge US hit and established Mercer as a lyricist and talent. In the 30s he moved to Hollywood where he socialised with the likes of Bing Crosby, wrote songs for the movies and created some of his best known lyrics and songs.
Johnny Mercer’s Finest Songs
Jeepers Creepers (music by Harry Warren). This song earned him his first Oscar nomination. Louis Armstrong later recorded the definitive version.
You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby (music by Harry Warren).
And the Angels Sing (music by Ziggy Elman).
Blues in the Night (music by Harold Arlen)
One for My Baby and One More for the Road (music by Harold Arlen). Frank Sinatra recorded the definitive version.
That Old Black Magic (music by Harold Arlen). Another Sinatra classic.
Moon River (music by Henry Mancini). This song earned Mercer an Oscar for Best Song. Audrey Hepburn’s version remains the definitive recording.
The Story of Moon River
Moon River was written especially for the film Breakfast at Tiffanys to suit Audrey Hepburn’s vocal range. Mercer’s co-writer Mancini alleged that the head of Paramount tried to remove the song from the film but Hepburn was adamant it remain. Audrey Hepburn’s version of the song wasn’t included on the soundtrack of Breakfast at Tiffanys, the studio preferred to include a Mancini orchestra and choral version. Hepburn’s delicate guitar and vocal rendition was only released in 1993 on the LP Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn.
Moon River has been covered countless times. Memorable versions include covers by Louis Armstong, Joey Butler, The Afgah Whigs, Ben E. King, Bobby Darin, The Four Freshmen, Connie Francis, Eddi Reader, R.E.M, Sarah Vaughan, Kid Koala and Morrissey. Mercer recorded Moon River himself and his version was released on his 1975 LP My Huckleberry Friend.
Moon River meets The Simpsons
The song became a signature tune for MOR singer Andy Williams. In an episode of The Simpsons the bully Nelson Muntz reveals that he is a huge Williams fan and is reduced to tears by Williams’ rendition of the song.
Mercer died in 1976 before he could complete a possible collaboration with Paul McCartney. A statue of Mercer was erected in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia.