Savannah’s own Johnny Mercer wrote more than 1,000 songs, and 400 of those were used in motion pictures. Eighteen of the songs he wrote were nominated for Academy Awards, and four of them won Best Original Song. He also co-founded Capitol Records in Hollywood in 1942 and was the founding president of the National Academy of Popular Music’s Songwriters Hall of Fame.
So, it’s no wonder the American Traditions Vocal Competition, a group with a mission to celebrate and preserve all styles of classic American music, as well as the Friends of Johnny Mercer, would want to celebrate this legendary lyricist and songwriter. The two groups are separately hosting special musical events to celebrate what would have been Mercer’s 109th birthday.
'An Evening of Wine and Roses'
The ATC's fourth annual Johnny Mercer Birthday Gala, “An Evening of Wine and Roses,” is at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at The Landings Plantation Club on Skidaway Island.
According to ATC Artistic Director Mikki Sodergren, the gala is about “honoring Johnny Mercer, first and foremost.” The event will feature dinner, drinks and “obviously music and dancing to some of Mercer’s greatest classics.”
Musical entertainment for the gala will feature three-time ATC finalist Rebecca “Bex” Odorisio and 2012 ATC Gold Medalist Joshua Carswell. Sodergren, who is also an ATC gold medal winner, will join Odorisio and Carswell along with David Duckworth on piano, Alisha Duckworth on bass and Billy Hoffman on drums.
Sodergren says that during the gala, ATC will honor its music director David Friedman with the recently founded “Kimmie Award,” named after Savannah musician Kim Michael Polote, an ATC Gold Medalist.
Friedman is an American film and theater composer, songwriter, author and lyricist and served as conductor for Disney films like “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Pocahontas” and as the vocal contractor for “Mulan.”
"As a composer of American popular music, a huge fan of Johnny Mercer's and someone with a great interest in sharing what I've learned in my career with young people, I'm thrilled to be honored by an organization that supports and nourishes so many of the things I love," Friedman says.
And while he’s known for his musical talents, Friedman is also a unique storyteller and accomplished public speaker.
“We are excited to honor him and all he has given to American music,” Sodergren adds.
The event will also feature auctions for guests to sponsor contestants for upcoming ATC events. Sodergren says this opportunity will give the community a hand in bringing future contestants to Savannah as well as a chance to bond with these talented musicians. There will also be a live auction of a painting from local artist, Tiffani Taylor.
In addition, pianist Kim Steiner will accompany Odorisio and Carswell during the “ATC on Tybee” concert at 8 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Tybee Post Theater. The event is billed as “from New York to Nashville” and will feature these award-winning musicians in a unique show featuring songs from the American songbook.
109th tribute concert
Music lovers will want to return to Tybee Post Theater at 3 p.m. Nov. 18 for more musical celebrations as the Friends of Johnny Mercer host another birthday celebration for “Savannah’s favorite son.”
Produced by Chris Chandler, this matinee production will feature guitarist and songwriter Jim Wann. Other performers include alto sax player and former director of Armstrong Atlantic State University’s jazz program Randall Reese, singer-songwriter Gary Swindell and guitarist James Lee Smith. Local musician Keith Gay will open the show singing several Mercer classics and he will be joined onstage by sons Cody Gay and Keith Gay Jr. performing “Old Black Magic.”
Groves High School will also perform “A Merry Christmas to You All” and musical accompaniment will be provided by the Tybee Post Trio’s Chris Chandler on piano, Johnnie Kennedy on bass, Marc Cordray on drums and Reese on alto sax.
And as a special treat, Leopold’s Ice Cream will be served after the show featuring Mercer’s favorite flavor, Tutti Frutti. The Friends of Johnny Mercer, an organization dedicated to keeping the music and memory of Johnny Mercer alive, will be on hand as well to accept new applications for membership.