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The Legacy of Johnny Mercer

Legendary American lyricist Johnny Mercer made a great contribution to music. He has written lyrics to some of the most famous songs to ever come out of film including “Accentuate The Positive,” “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” “That Old Black Magic,” and “I’m Old-Fashioned” — just to name a few.

From birth, Johnny Mercer was influenced by music. Mercer’s upbringing in Georgia provided him with the right environment to be inspired by song; both by his parents and by the southern, jazzy tunes of Louis Armstrong. Despite not being able to read musical notation, Mercer invented his own notation in order to write down his melodies and lyrics.

During The Great Depression, Mercer had some rough tumbles, both creatively and financially, which slowed the progression of his career. However, through Mercer’s hard work and dedication to his craft, Mercer accepted a job to write music lyrics for films. In 1933, the first credit Mercer’s name was for the lyrics to “What Will I Do Without You?” for the film “College Coach,” which starred Dick Powell. From there, his career steadily grew. Mercer wrote songs throughout the genres. In Busby Berkley's big, splashy musical "Hollywood Hotel" (1937), Mercer's song "Hooray For Hollywood" debuted and in the Oscar-winning drama "Jezebel" (1938), Mercer wrote the theme song "Jezebel."

Mercer was also known for his famous collaborations with some of the greatest composers and singers in the industry. He teamed up with famed “Over The Rainbow” composer Harold Arlen to write “Accentuate The Positive” for the film “Here Come The Waves” (1944). The optimistic song was nominated for an Academy Award but could only lose to another dynamite musical pair – Rogers & Hammerstein. Three years later, Mercer would receive the first out of his four Oscars for the song “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls” (1947). Among his other Oscar wins was for “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1962).

As of November 18, 2009, Johnny Mercer will have reached his centennial birthday. Today, The Johnny Mercer Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Mercer’s legacy through educating younger people about music and song-writing through Mercer’s music.

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