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November 18, 2009

Saluting centennial of Johnny Mercer, master lyricist

This is the day to salute Johnny Mercer, who was born 100 years ago, on Nov. 18, 1909.

He is credited with the lyrics for about 1,000 songs, including an exceptional number of what have long been recognized as standards of the great American songbook. Mercer's use of language could be just too "marvelous for words," as some of the past century's finest melody writers discovered.

I've always felt that the best popular songs, where text and tune are perfectly united, deserve to be ranked alongside the best classical art songs. Many of the works that bear the Mercer trademark certainly can be so ranked.

To celebrate his centennial, here are a few of my favorite Mercer songs, sung by some fabulous artists who make the most out of his lyrics -- and yes, as any of my devoted readers would expect, that means Streisand will be included:

Read more about Johnny Mercer.

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:02 AM | | Comments (3)


Happy Birthday to Mercer and Thanks for the tunes. "Syklark" as always been a favorite for me, though I prefer the Ronstadt rendition. Who can deny the great Streisand? When not worrying about being an actress/director/activist/politico and on and on, no one does it better.....

Thanks very much for commenting. I like Linda's 'Skylark,' too, but I was so taken by that a cappella version from k.d. that I had to use it -- a nice way of putting extra attention on the lyrics, too, it seemed. TIM

So few people know the down home, understated style Mercer himself used as a would have been nice to include a clip of him performing on of his tunes!

Right you are. (I really did think about doing that at one point.) Let me see if I can make amends. TIM

All wonderful choices, as usual from you. But, I must say that the k.d. lang a cappella version of "Skylark" leaves me speechless. Absolutely, as they say, fabulous!

Thanks ever so, you discerning reader. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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