Nov. 9, 2009
Liz Babiarz, 404-413-1356
This month marks the 100th anniversary of Mercer's birth, and Georgia State University, home of the Johnny Mercer Papers, is presenting a centennial celebration to highlight his music and life.
"Mercer is one of the most important lyricists of the 20th century," said Gordon Vernick, director of jazz studies at Georgia State's School of Music. "His lyrics are like poetry. They have this wonderful southern rhythmic cadence."
The University Library's Popular Music and Culture Archives, the Rialto Center for the Arts and the School of Music are collaborating to hold three exciting events.
On Nov. 13-14, the University Library is presenting an academic conference, "Popular Music in the Mercer Era, 1910-1970," with internationally renowned music scholars, held at the Rialto Center for the Arts.
At 8 p.m. on Nov. 13, the University Library will host a free screening of the documentary film, "Johnny Mercer: The Dream's On Me," at the Rialto.
Executively produced by Clint Eastwood, the film shows the life and work of Mercer through performances and interviews with Tony Bennett, John Williams, Julie Andrews and others. It also includes historical footage from movies such as Breakfast at Tiffany's and Blues in the Night.
The events will wrap up with the "Johnny Mercer Centennial Celebration Concert" at 8 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the Rialto. Performers from Georgia State's School of Music Jazz Band will be joined by special guests, Lizz Wright and Joe Gransden, to give a tribute to Mercer by performing some of his well known hits.
Lizz Wright is a jazz and soul singer hailing from Hahira, Ga., just southwest of Mercer's hometown of Savannah. Trumpeter and vocalist Joe Gransden has performed worldwide and holds a music degree from the GSU School of Music, where he studied with Vernick. Tickets for the celebration concert are $22-$48 and are available at the Rialto Center's box office, 404-413-9TIX (9849) or www.rialtocenter.org.
Vernick will be conducting the GSU Jazz Band during Saturday's performance and said it is an opportunity to showcase Mercer's work.
"It's great American music and we need to preserve it," Vernick said. "This is how we preserve, not by putting it in a glass case, but getting it out and kicking the life into it."
Mercer grew up listening to gospel, jazz and African-American folk music. He stole away to New York in the 1920s, where he launched his musical career and enjoyed tremendous success as a lyricist, vocalist and record executive, co-founding Capital records. He is best known for songs like "Moon River," "Hooray for Hollywood," "Blues in the Night," and "Accentuate the Positive."
"What made Mercer unique were his southern roots and influences, unlike other songwriters of his era who were primarily from New York," said Kevin Fleming, popular music and culture archivist at the Georgia State University Library. "And if you don't know Mercer by name, you'll definitely recognize his songs."
For more information, visit www.library.gsu.edu/mercer100.