What do the songs Moon River, Hooray for Hollywood, Days of Wine and Roses, the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and Capitol Records all have in common? They’re all the brainchild of Savannah’s eternal flame, the stellar Johnny Mercer.
In his life, Mercer wrote over 1,500 songs spread across film, radio, and theater. Alongside the aforementioned hits, Mercer also wrote classics such as I Remember You and In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening. Through his continuous dedication to the art of songwriting, Mercer was nominated for 19 Academy Awards, winning four.
Outside of songwriting, Mercer’s passion for music still shined bright. Alongside financiers Buddy DeSylvaand and Glenn Wallichs, Mercer founded Capitol Records in 1942. He also co-founded the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1969 to honor those whose contributions to the craft of songwriting were particularly outstanding. Fittingly, the Johnny Mercer Award is the highest honor that the Hall of Fame can bestow upon an artist.
Before Mercer was a world-famous mega-producer and songwriting machine, he was just an upper-class working boy in the hazy streets of Savannah. Mercer worked a variety of odd jobs in the “Hostess City of the South” as a child, all the while living here at 226 E. Gwinnett Street. Here, Mercer was introduced to music thanks to his parent’s love of singing. The Mercer family also employed Black housemaids, sparking Mercer’s interest in the emerging sounds of jazz and blues.
Reportedly, Mercer would scour the streets in search of Black jazz records. Taking them home, he drowned in the intoxicating music of artists like Louis Armstrong and Ma Rainey. Unlike his contemporaries, Mercer had a thorough understanding of various musical genres, helping him achieve a talent for tapping into universal themes of longing, love, and hope.
At 19, Mercer left Savannah for New York City, but he never forgot his connection to Savannah. He often visited the city and was eventually buried in the famous Bonaventure Cemetery. Savannah, too, has never lost its connection to its hometown hero, who is commemorated with streets, statues, and monuments bearing his name and the names of his songs.
On East Gwinnett Street, life is laid back and low-country, just as Mercer would have liked it. While a historical marker does denote the house’s historical significance, no grand tours or neon signs point to its fame, respectfully keeping the house just as it was when Mercer first fell in love with music.
Know Before You Go
The house is a private residence, so please remain respectful of the residents.