Johnny Mercer was a lyricist, musician and most of all a lover of Savannah. That from David Oppenheim, the historian for Friends of Johnny Mercer. Oppenheim truly seems to be like a human dictionary when it comes to Mercer, someone he’s admired over the years but whom he never met. On this day when Mercer would celebrate his 106th birthday, Oppenheim wanted all of us at WSAV to understand not only the city’s strong connection to Mercer, but our own station’s connection.
Oppenheim recently searched archives find an interview done 50 years ago by then WSAV newscaster Ralph Price on a program that was called “Candid Opinion.” He wanted us to share it with our audience.
The interview aired in December of 1966. Mercer was visiting his family in Savannah for the holidays. One of the first things Mercer says is “I love being in Savannah.”
He talked about current events in the music industry at that time including rock and roll and some of his concerns that the genre was taking front stage over ballads, which he loved and preferred writing. In a somewhat humorous look back in time, Price also asks Mercer’s opinion about a song popular in 1966, Winchester Cathedral.
Oppenheim hopes many in Savannah will view the interview. “So many people here may have heard of Johnny Mercer but never seen any film or tape of him, this is their chance to see him and hear him speak,” he told us.
Oppenheim says Mercer wrote over 1,500 songs, won four Academy Awards and there is one forgotten fact about his career. “He was also was a great singer, most people now don’t even remember he was a singer but he made millions singing for Capitol Records which he founded in 1942,” he told us.
The old black and white footage takes us back to an era long gone. Still, Oppenheim is hoping those who don’t know the legacy of Mercer’s music will become interested enough to find out. “From Moon River to so many other tunes, his music is really loved the world over,” Oppenheim told us. “And the best part is that so much of what he was comes from Savannah.”
Oppenheim thinks the man who gave us “Moon River” left quite a legacy, one he says Friends of Johnny Mercer is working to keep alive. Over the years though, he says membership has waned frankly as many Mercer fans have gotten older. But Oppenheim’s enthusiasm for Mercer’s music and what it means to the world has never changed. He can sing the lines of most every song Mercer ever wrote. I sang a few with him. Don’t worry. We didn’t tape that.