The Mercer Family Collection
Johnny Mercer was born in 1909 into a long-established Savannah (GA.) family. Mercer’s lyrics and writings recall his fond memories of a childhood and youth in Savannah and especially the family’s summerhouse in Vernon View. After prep school in Virginia, Johnny struck out for Broadway and New York’s tin pan alley and a show business career. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Mercer sang and toured with the big bands. During this period, Mercer was lured to Hollywood where he had great success songwriting for motion pictures. Mercer became one of the most prolific and best-known lyricists of American popular song. Many have since become standards: Hooray for Hollywood, That Old Black Magic, And the Angels Sing, Moon River, Autumn Leaves, Satin Doll and Summer Wind are just a few examples of his lyrics. While Mercer sometimes wrote music, he usually worked with composers, including Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen and Henri Mancini. In 1942 Mercer started Capitol Records with partners Buddy DeSlyva and Glenn Wallichs in order to provide a recording outlet for the singers, musicians and songwriters working in Southern California’s movie industry. After an active, productive career, Johnny Mercer died in Los Angeles California in 1976.
Nancy Mercer Keith Gerard, Johnny Mercer's niece donated the Mercer Family Collection to Lane Library's Special Collections in 2006. Nancy grew up in her Maternal Grandmother’s (Johnny’s mother, Lillian Cieucevich Mercer’s) home in Savannah. Pearce W. Hammond, Amanda Mercer (Johnny’s daughter) and other members of Savannah’s Friends of Johnny Mercer organization have also donated material to the Collection.
The Collection consists of photographs, letters and memorabilia from the Mercer Family and documenting Johnny Mercer’s life and the Mercer family in Savannah. Material in the Collection is listed in this Inventory, letters from Mercer and family photographs are described at the item level.
At the heart of the collection is a small set of letters home written by Johnny to his parents, George Anderson Mercer and Lillian Cieucevich Mercer. Collected by Johnny’s mother Lillian, the letters begin in the early 1930's when Johnny wrote home from New York as a struggling actor/lyrist. Letters dating from the 1940's and 1950’s reveal Johnny at the height of his career in Southern California. The letters reveal a humble, affectionate son and his thoughts of Savannah. The letters have been used in Gene Lees' published biography of Mercer, Portrait of Johnny. Some of the letters from the Collection are available digitally from the Friends of Johnny Mercer website.
Fun for study and display there are Capitol Records’ promotional items, including pajamas decorated with the record company’s hit song titles. The Collection also includes record albums and sheet music that recall popular music and the music industry from the 1920's through the 1970's.
A selection of the family photographs from the Collection have been digitized and are available from the Special Collections’ Flickr site.
Several members of the Friends of Johnny Mercer aided in establishing the Collection. Diane Thurman helped Nancy Gerard and special collections librarian Caroline Hopkinson sort and identify the many family photos in the Collection. David Oppenheim donated correspondence of Sadie Vimmerstedt to the Collection and shared copies from his files and media collection about Johnny Mercer.
Mercer descendent Pearce W. Hammond donated to the collection, including the transcription of his great-great grandfather, George A. Mercer’s civil war era diary. The original diary is in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Mercer’s daughter Amanda donated two paintings by Mercer to the Collection.
The Mercer Family Collection is open to the public. To make an appointment to view and use the Collection during the many hours the Lane Library is open each week, please contact Caroline Hopkinson via e-mail Caroline.Hopkinson@armstrong.edu or phone: 912.344.3019.
Recordings were made of Savannah-area family and friends of Johnny Mercer during 4 sessions in October 2007. Friends and family recounting stories of Mercer and of growing up in Savannah during the mid 20th century. The DVDs are available to view in Lane Library’s media services department (344.2967) Locator: DVD 845, discs 1 - 4
Descriptions of the four Mercer Storytelling sessions:
Disc 1. October 2, 2007, Nancy Mercer Keith Gerard (Johnny Mercer’s niece) and Steve Gerard (Nancy’s husband) conducted by Barbara Fertig and students in her Folklore course at the Special Collections of Lane Library, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah GA 31419-1997. 1:08:59. Original recording housed in the Lane Library’s Special Collections.
Disc 2. October 4th, 2007, Tom Coffey, Ralph Price, Connie Hartridge, Abraham Famble conducted by Barbara Fertig and students in her Folklore course at the Special Collections of Lane Library, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah GA 31419-1997. 1:06:41. Original recording housed in the Lane Library’s Special Collections.
Disc 3. October 9th 2007, Pearce W. Hammond and Anne Hancock Hammond conducted by Caroline Hopkinson and students of the Folklore course at the Special Collections of Lane Library, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah GA 31419-1997. 0:42:27. Original recording housed in the Lane Library’s Special Collections.
Disc 4. October 16th 2007, Dan O’Leary, David O’Leary and Stratton Leopold conducted by Barbara Fertig and students in her Folklore course at the Special Collections of Lane Library, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah GA 31419-1997. 1:07:19. Original recording housed in the Lane Library’s Special Collections.
The Mercer storytelling project arose from a partnership between the Friends of Johnny Mercer organization and Armstrong Atlantic State University. Nancy Gerard recruited volunteers among friends and family to meet Armstrong students in Barbara Fertig (professor of History) course on Folklore. The students then did a course project based on the storytelling sessions. The interviews are not part of a formal oral history project, but record stories about Johnny Mercer and life in Savannah during the 1920’s-1960’s. Those interviewed, all life long residents of the area, recount stories of Johnny Mercer, the Mercer family and life in Savannah during the period. The sessions were conducted in the Florence Powell Minis Room of Lane Library’s Special Collections and videotaped by Armstrong’s CIS department.
The Johnny Mercer Educational Archives Maintained by Steve Taksler, this site is dedicated to the legacy of Johnny Mercer.
Information on the year-long celebration of Johnny Mercer's birth in 2009, is available at the Centennial Committee's website.
Johnny Mercer Collections at Georgia State University This features a large archival collection of Mercer’s own records, and oral histories collected by the repository. The website includes databases of Mercer songs and sound recordings, and photographs.
Friends of Johnny Mercer The Savannah organization dedicated to perpetuating the lyrics, music, life and memory of Savannah’s native son, John Herndon Mercer.
Johnny Mercer Foundation “Our foundation’s most passionate goal is to initiate a series of dynamic new fun, hands-on educational programs designed to introduce the songs of Mercer, and Berlin, and Gershwin, and Ellington and all our great American songwriters to our children quick, before their ears change!”