Savannah, Georgia has named native son and prolific song writer Johnny Mercer its "Man of the Year." Throughout 2009, the historic city on the Atlantic coastline is hosting events to honor Mercer, who wrote lyrics to more than 1,000 songs from the 1930s into the 1960s.
Many of Mercer's tunes were used in Hollywood movies, earning him 19 Academy Award nominations during his lifetime.Some of his hits include such classics as Moon River, Days of Whine and Roses and On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, which Judy Garland sang in the 1946 Academy Award-winning musical, The Harvey Girls.
The peak of the year-long Mercer celebration comes on what would have been his 100th birthday 18 November 2009. In a downtown square, a life-size bronze statue of Mercer will be unveiled. Other special events in Savannah include concerts, a film series, exhibitions and lectures. Johnny Mercer died on 25 June 1976 following complications from a brain tumor.
Savannah Flavor Inspired Mercer
City officials say they want contemporary visitors to experience "Mercer's southern gumption, timeless appeal, Gatsby style, creative inspiration, Huckleberry Friend affability, sonwriting and singing."
Mercer credits his mother with his love of music, Savannah immersed him in gospel, jazz, blues, Creole, African American folk music and other voices of the Deep South that found expression in his work.
Changing Lives for the Better
Mercer also was a philanthropist, but was brought up to believe that a good man does good deeds in the dead of the night," said Dianne Thurman, Chairperson of the Johnny Mercer Centennial Committee in Savannah. The city is doing 100 days of story telling about his generosity, including replacing a roof on a local church, repairing or replacing televisions in a nursing home and paying off personal debts.
He also would return to Savannah for charity benefits. "He really did do a lot of things for a lot of people that are very quiet, but that was a part of what made Johnny Mercer the man that he was," said Thurman.