A Centennial Salute To Johnny Mercer

This week on Fresh Air, we're marking the year's end by revisiting some of the most memorable conversations we've had in 2009.

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hide captionIn addition to spending his own time on the keys, as the co-founder of Capitol Records, Johnny Mercer helped other musicians get their start.

Special Collections and Archives/Georgia State University Library
Johnny Mercer

In addition to spending his own time on the keys, as the co-founder of Capitol Records, Johnny Mercer helped other musicians get their start.

Special Collections and Archives/Georgia State University Library

Johnny Mercer is the man behind the lyrics of some of the most popular American songs of the century. Mercer wrote or co-wrote over 1,000 songs, ranging from classics like "Skylark" and "That Old Black Magic" to the impish fanfare of "Hooray For Hollywood."

Pianist and composer David Frishberg and singer Rebecca Kilgore are generally jazz musicians by trade, but they have a soft spot for Mercer.

"He's such an excellent musician," Frishberg tells Terry Gross. "He's not just a lyric writer. He's just a musician all to his bones — and he sings beautifully. He sings beautifully in tune and he sings with great humor and with great sentiment, and with a great understanding of what he's doing musically. That always knocked me out."

Mercer's other knockout hits include numbers like "Jeepers Creepers," "Spring, Spring, Spring" (from the musical Seven Brides For Seven Brothers) and "Moon River" — one of four songs that won him Academy Awards (on top of 19 total nominations).

In celebration of Mercer's centennial — he was born in Savannah, Ga., on Nov. 18, 1909 — Frishberg and Kilgore filled the Fresh Air studio with a medley of his songs. The two have recorded several albums together; their latest is Why Fight The Feeling.

This broadcast first aired on Nov. 18, 2009.

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