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American Traditions Vocal Competition introduces new award at Johnny Mercer Birthday Gala

  • Johnny Mercer
  • Kim Michael Polote
  • Mikki Sodergren
  • Kimberly Hawkey
  • Michael Maliakel

American Traditions Vocal Competition introduces new award at Johnny Mercer Birthday Gala

14 Nov 2017

The American Traditions Vocal Competition’s annual Johnny Mercer Birthday Gala will celebrate not just the 108th birthday of famed Savannah native Mercer, but also the work of 2001 ATC Gold Medalist Kim Michael Polote.

This year’s gala, themed “Blues in the Night,” is Nov. 16 at The Landings Plantation Club on Skidaway Island.

“This year’s Johnny Mercer birthday celebration will be a truly special event as we present the first Kimmie Award to the individual who inspired the honor,” says ATC artistic director Mikki Sodergren. “It is important to recognize individuals like Kim and Johnny Mercer, who are beloved by Savannah and who have given so much to the musical community.”

The evening will begin with hors d’oeuvres at 6:30 p.m. followed by dinner and entertainment at 7:30 p.m. ATC Gold Medalists will perform, including Sodergren, Kimberly Hawkey and Michael Maliakel.

They will be accompanied by David Duckworth on piano, Alisha Duckworth on bass and Billy Hoffman on drums.

Mercer had a 50-year career as a lyricist, songwriter and singer who founded Capitol Records. He often referred to Georgia as the source of his artistic inspiration, and his work helped put Georgia on the musical map.

The Kimmie Award, named for Polote herself, is being launched for the ATC’s 25th season. It recognizes ambassadors of American music and will be given annually.

Polote is the only Savannah native to win the ATC Gold Medal. Born and raised in Savannah, she graduated from St. Vincent’s Academy and has entertained local and tourist audiences since she was 7.

After three years of entering the ATC, Polote won the gold in 2001. She has since performed with such entertainers as Al Green, Harry Connick Jr. and Charlie Daniels, and sang for President Jimmy Carter at his church in Plains.

Polote has even cooked and sung on the Food Network with her friend Paula Deen. In the documentary, “Savannah and the Civil War,” Polote played the character of Susie King Taylor, the first black Army nurse, who tended to the 1st South Carolina Volunteers during the Civil War and was the first African American to teach openly in a school for former slaves in Georgia.

In February 2015, at the request of the Embassy of Moscow, Polote and a team of two male vocalists and five dancers took a humanitarian trip to four cities in Russia, where they held workshops and performed.

Her third and most recent album, “Change,” contains gospel and inspirational songs.

“This is our third annual gala, previously called the Birthday Bash,” Sodergren says. “We’re going to be having the first ever honoree for a new award for folks who have given back toward the world of American music.

“Kim Michael Polote has given so much to the people of Savannah. She’s performed at the birthday celebration for the last two years. It’s a nice chance for her to put her feet up and enjoy the performance in Savannah without having to be the performer.”

The gala also offers the opportunity for guests to sponsor ATC contestants.

“This year, they’re going to have the opportunity to support a pianist,” Sodergren says.

The ATC has seen steady growth in recent years.

“We had a 35 percent increase in applications,” Sodergren says. “We had applications from the Philippines, the U.K. and Canada. It’s now an international list, which is exciting.

“We’re also going to feature some arts. There’s a big event in the spring with the Savannah Art Walk.

“We’ll have art by Tiffani Taylor and Melissa Schneider,” Sodergren says. “Each will have few pieces displayed to open people up to their art work.”

Tickets to the gala almost always sell out.

“It was started as a way to honor Johnny Mercer and to continue that legacy,” Sodergren says. “He gave to American music. He had such a strong voice and the Johnny Mercer Foundation continues that.”


What: American Traditions Vocal Competition presents “Blues in the Night”

When: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 16

Where: The Landings Plantation Club, 1 Cottonwood Lane on Skidaway Island

Tickets: $100

Info:, 912-508-1133