Mabel Mercer

(1900 - 1984)

A photo of Mabel Mercer
Mabel Mercer
1900 - 1984
Born
February 3, 1900
Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire County, England United Kingdom
Death
April 20, 1984
Pittsfield in Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts United States 01201
Other Names
Mabel Mercer
Summary
Mabel Mercer was born on February 3, 1900 in Burton upon Trent, England United Kingdom. She died on April 20, 1984 at Pittsfield, Pittsfield, Massachusetts at 84 years old. We know that Mabel Mercer had been residing in East Chatham, Columbia County, New York 12060.
Updated: June 16, 2020
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MABEL MERCER
Mabel Mercer (3 February 1900 – 20 April 1984)] was an English-born cabaret singer who performed in the United States, Britain, and Europe with the greats in jazz and cabaret. She was a featured performer at Chez Bricktop in Paris, owned by the hostess Bricktop, and performed in such clubs as Le Ruban Bleu, Tony's, the RSVP, the Carlyle, the St. Regis Hotel, and eventually her own room, the Byline Club. Among those who frequently attended Mercer's shows was Frank Sinatra, who made no secret of his emulating her phrasing and story-telling techniques.
Early life
Mercer was born on 3 February 1900 in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England. Her mother was a young, white English music hall performer, and her father was a black American musician who died before she was born. At the age of 14, she left her convent school in Manchester, and toured Britain and Europe with her aunt in vaudeville and music hall engagements. Her precise vocal styling was believed to be the result of diction training while a student at the convent.
Career
In 1928, she was an unknown member of the black chorus in the London production of Show Boat, but she had become the toast of Paris by the 1930s, with admirers who included Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Cole Porter.
When World War II broke out, she traveled to America to sing in the finest supper clubs in New York City. Her recording career began in 1942, with an album of selections from Porgy and Bess on the elite Liberty Music Shops label, featuring piano accompaniment by Cy Walter. Over the following decades, Mercer made many concert appearances across the U.S. In the late 1960s, she gave two concerts with Bobby Short at Town Hall in New York City. Both were released by Atlantic Records: Mabel Mercer & Bobby Short at Town Hall, in 1968, (Atlantic SD 2-604) and Mabel Mercer & Bobby Short Second Town Hall Concert, in 1969 (Atlantic SD 2-605). In 1969, she made two appearances on the television program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Her original and reissued albums are collector's items. Atlantic Records reissued four of her early LPs in a boxed set in 1975, in honor of her 75th birthday. She was awarded Stereo Review Magazine's first Award for Merit, for her lifetime achievement and for "outstanding contributions to the quality of American musical life." This award was officially renamed the Mabel Mercer Award in 1984.
Late career
When Mercer returned on 4 July 1977 for her first performance in England in 41 years, the BBC filmed three evenings' performances and later broadcast it in a week-long late-night television program, a BBC first for an entertainer.
In 1978, "Midnight at Mabel Mercer's," her 1956 album on Atlantic, was praised as "one of the best recordings of the past twenty years" (although it was more than 20 years old at the time) by Stereo Review. That same year, Mercer played at San Francisco's Club Mocambo to sold-out audiences, in celebration of her 78th birthday.
In 1982. Mercer teamed up with her dear friend Eileen Farrell in concert as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. Farrell often said it was the one unlicensed record she wished she had.
Honors
In January 1981, she was honored by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York with "An American Cabaret," the only musical event of its kind at that point in the museum's history. Mercer was the first guest on Eileen Farrell's new program featuring great popular singers, on National Public Radio.
Mercer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian medal, in 1983.
When President Ronald Reagan presented it to her in a ceremony at the White House, he called her "a singer's singer" and "a living testament to the artfulness of the American song". She also received two honorary Doctor of Music degrees: one from Boston's Berklee College of Music, the other from the New England Conservatory of Music.
Death
Mabel Mercer died on 20 April 1984, aged 84, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and is buried at Red Rock Cemetery near Chatham (town), New York.
The Mabel Mercer Foundation
In 1985, the Mabel Mercer Foundation was established with the efforts of her long-time friend and professional associate Donald F. Smith. This not-for-profit arts organization was formed to keep Mercer's memory alive, and to contribute to the art of cabaret performing by supporting artists and providing information resources. Its international activities include the debut of the London Cabaret Convention in 2004. The Foundation produced Noël Coward's 100th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall, and also has a Young Person's Series to introduce young people to The Great American Songbook of popular classics.
Filmography
Live concerts
1990: View Video VHS: Mabel Mercer: A Singer's Singer (reissued 2005 on DVD)
1991: View Video VHS: Mabel Mercer: An Evening with Mabel Mercer (a.k.a. Cabaret Artist "Now and Always") (as yet unissued on DVD)
As actress
1936: Tropical Trouble
1936: Everything Is Rhythm
1961: The Sand Castle
Discography
1942: Porgy and Bess (3x10" 78-rpm set with Cy Walter & Todd Duncan; three songs by Mabel)
c. 1945: You Better Go Now (unreleased private recording)
1953: Songs by Mabel Mercer, Vol. 1
1953: Songs by Mabel Mercer, Vol. 2
1953: Songs by Mabel Mercer, Vol. 3 (Written Especially For Her)
1955: Mabel Mercer Sings Cole Porter
1956: Midnight at Mabel Mercer's
1958: Once in a Blue Moon
1960: Merely Marvelous Mabel Mercer
1964: Mabel Mercer Sings
1965: The Art of Mabel Mercer (2x12" reissue of three 1953 10" Songs by Mabel Mercer LPs with one added track)
1968: At Town Hall (live recording, with Bobby Short)
1969: Second Town Hall Concert (live recording, with Bobby Short)
1974: For Always (reissue of 1964 Mabel Mercer Sings)
1975: A Salute to Mabel Mercer on her 75th Birthday (4x12" reissue of four 1955–60 LPs in commemorative box)
1980: Echoes of My Life (her final studio recordings)
2002: Previously Unreleased Live Performances (Legendary Performers)
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Biography
Mabel Mercer
Most commonly known name
Mabel Mercer
Full name
Mabel Mercer
Nickname(s) or aliases
East Chatham, Columbia County, New York 12060
Last known residence
Female
Gender
Mabel Mercer was born on in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire County, England United Kingdom
Birth
Mabel Mercer died on at Pittsfield in Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts United States 01201
Death
Mabel Mercer was born on in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire County, England United Kingdom
Mabel Mercer died on at Pittsfield in Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts United States 01201
Birth
Death
Heritage

Ethnicity & Lineage

Biracial. White mother. Black father.

Nationality & Locations

She was raised in Europe but died as an American citizen.
Childhood

Education

At the age of 14, she left her convent school in Manchester.
Adulthood

Professions

Famous singer.

Personal Life

Discography
1942: Porgy and Bess (3x10" 78-rpm set with Cy Walter & Todd Duncan; three songs by Mabel)
c. 1945: You Better Go Now (unreleased private recording)
1953: Songs by Mabel Mercer, Vol. 1
1953: Songs by Mabel Mercer, Vol. 2
1953: Songs by Mabel Mercer, Vol. 3 (Written Especially For Her)
1955: Mabel Mercer Sings Cole Porter
1956: Midnight at Mabel Mercer's
1958: Once in a Blue Moon
1960: Merely Marvelous Mabel Mercer
1964: Mabel Mercer Sings
1965: The Art of Mabel Mercer (2x12" reissue of three 1953 10" Songs by Mabel Mercer LPs with one added track)
1968: At Town Hall (live recording, with Bobby Short)
1969: Second Town Hall Concert (live recording, with Bobby Short)
1974: For Always (reissue of 1964 Mabel Mercer Sings)
1975: A Salute to Mabel Mercer on her 75th Birthday (4x12" reissue of four 1955–60 LPs in commemorative box)
1980: Echoes of My Life (her final studio recordings)
2002: Previously Unreleased Live Performances (Legendary Performers)
Obituary

Average Age

Life Expectancy

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Amanda S. Stevenson
11.7k+ favorites
She was dedicated to interpreting the lyric of a song.
Jun 16, 2020 · Reply

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MABEL MERCER, PHRASER OF SONGS, DIES
By JOHN S. WILSON APRIL 21, 1984
April 21, 1984.
The New York Times Archives
Mabel Mercer, whose influence on popular music over the last half century reached far beyond the audiences who heard her sing in the intimate rooms where she usually performed, died yesterday in the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Mass. She was 84 years old.
Miss Mercer, who had been suffering from un-stabilized angina, died of respiratory arrest. She lived in East Chatham, N.Y., in a farmhouse she bought more than 30 years ago.
Although Miss Mercer never gave singing lessons, even informally, the ''students'' who have learned by listening to her have included many of the most prominent singers of popular music. ''Mabel Mercer taught me everything I know,'' Frank Sinatra once said, and, in an admiring letter to Miss Mercer, he called her ''the best music teacher in the world.''
It was Miss Mercer's phrasing and her ability to convey the emotional sense of a lyric that attracted other singers and songwriters.
Billie Holiday almost lost a job singing on West 52d Street because she spent so much time at a club across the street, listening to Miss Mercer. Nat (King) Cole, Barbara Cook and Bobby Short were other singers who studied her work in the same manner. ''She was the guiding light of my career,'' said Mr. Short, who later gave concerts with her in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall. Mathis Sent Fans to Hear Her
Johnny Mathis admired her so much that when he was playing an engagement at the Uris Theater several years ago, he urged audiences who were clamoring for another encore from him to go to hear Miss Mercer, who was then singing at the St. Regis Hotel.
Miss Mercer was equally admired by songwriters, who appreciated the taste and interpretive skills she brought to their songs. Alec Wilder, whose ''While We're Young'' was introduced by Miss Mercer, called her ''the guardian of the tenuous dreams created by writers of songs.'' She also introduced ''Fly Me to the Moon'' by Bart Howard, one of a coterie of young songwriters who gathered around her.
Miss Mercer is credited with keeping alive an impressive list of songs that might otherwise have been forgotten. For almost a decade, for example, she was almost the only performer singing the Richard Rodgers-Moss Hart ''Little Girl Blue.'' Eventually, other singers who had heard her do it - Mr. Sinatra, Margaret Whiting and Lena Horne - recorded and popularized the song to the extent that it is now regarded as an imperishable standard. Similarly, she sustained the Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz song ''By Myself'' from 1938 until it reached a wider audience in 1954, when Fred Astaire sang it in the film ''The Band Wagon,'' and she salvaged the Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields song ''Remind Me'' from an Abbott and Costello film, ''One Night in the Tropics.'' A Private, Shy Person
Although Miss Mercer, who was born on Feb. 3, 1900, in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, spent all her life as a performer, she was to the end a private and somewhat shy person.
I've always been shy of singing,'' she said. ''It's a great surprise to me when people say nice things. I can't bear to listen to myself. I won't listen to my own records.''
She never knew her father, a black American who died before she was born. Her mother was a white British vaudeville singer and actress whose family was in show business.
''I was the most self-conscious child,'' Miss Mercer remembered a few years ago. ''I don't know how I ever became an entertainer. It was absolute agony at school when I was called on to recite a poem or something. I would turn scarlet, my knees would knock and my lips would tremble so that I could hardly pronounce the words. And there I was, the child of performers and I couldn't get over it. Horrible, horrible. Even now when I'm going to sing a new song or appear in a new place, I get stomach aches up to here.''
At 14, she became a dancer in her family's music-hall act. She began singing in Paris after World War I when a male quartet that had lost a tenor asked her to fill in. After the quartet broke up, Miss Mercer continued singing on her own in Paris at Chez Florence and Le Grand Duke and, in the 1930's, at Bricktop's, the celebrated cabaret where Cole Porter had a permanent table. It was at Bricktop's that she found the communicative advantages of singing while seated. How the Style Evolved
''People would say, 'Come over here and sing such-and-such a song,' '' she once recalled. ''So I'd sit down next to their table and sing. I had to learn not to stare at them when I sang because it made them uncomfortable. So I developed an impersonal thing of not really looking at anybody but just concentrating on the story of the song.''
Miss Mercer delivered her stories with a quiet, unaffected precision that once prompted a professor of English at the University of California to use her records in his classes to demonstrate fine diction. When she came to the United States in 1938 and sang from a stage, she was seated in a high- backed armchair with her hands folded in her lap, looking benevolently regal. This became her customary manner of performing.
Her first engagement in New York was at Le Ruban Bleu, followed by several years at Tony's on 52d Street during the 1940's. She also sang at the Byline Room, Downstairs at the Upstairs, the St. Regis Hotel and the Cafe Carlyle.
Although she quickly developed a devoted following, Miss Mercer insisted that she was an acquired taste. ''People have to hear me two or three times before they like me,'' she said. ''I grow on them like a barnacle.''
As she became older, her voice, which had been soprano, deepened and sometimes became a bit uncertain. As the voice went lower, she felt she had to compensate for notes that she could no longer sing securely. But she found a bright side to this. ''It gave me a better chance to talk the story of a song,'' she recalled. 'A Graceful Parlando'
This resulted in a delivery that Mr. Wilder described as ''a graceful parlando.'' Some others were not so kind. ''People say, 'Why she can't sing for toffee!' '' Miss Mercer said. ''I say, 'I know that - I'm telling a story.' ''
In 1977, after giving a concert in Carnegie Hall, Miss Mercer appeared for the first time in 40 years in London, where she also starred in a five-part BBC television film, ''Miss Mercer in Mayfair.'' In 1979, she seemingly went into retirement, but she emerged again in 1982 to sing at the Kool Jazz Festival. She took part in a concert of music by the late Mr. Wilder and shared a program with Eileen Farrell, singing solos and duets. She gave her final performance last November at a benefit for the SLE Foundation, which combats lupus.
Miss Mercer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1983, from President Reagan. Last January, Stereo Review Magazine's Award of Merit, of which Miss Mercer was the first recipient a decade ago, was renamed the Mabel Mercer Award and was given to Frank Sinatra.
Miss Mercer's brief marriage, to the jazz musician Kelsey Pharr, ended in divorce. There are no close survivors.
The body will be at the Wenk Funeral Home in Chatham on Monday, with viewing from 2 to 4 P.M. and from 7 to 9 P.M. A mass will be celebrated in St James Roman Catholic Church in Chatham Tuesday at 2 P.M.

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Mabel's lifetime.

In 1900, in the year that Mabel Mercer was born, the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud published his book (written in 1899) "The Interpretation of Dreams". Sigmund Freud, born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in May of 1856, is the "father of psychoanalysis". Although he was a medical doctor, he was fascinated with the psyche and hypothesized the existence of the id, the ego, the superego, the libido, the unconscious, the Oedipus complex, and more. These are concepts that are still used by modern psychology.

In 1914, Mabel was merely 14 years old when President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother's Day, the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers. Anna Jarvis had championed a Mother's Day for years but Congress had joked a few years earlier that then they would have to proclaim a "Mother-in-law's Day" as well. The President who championed a woman's right to vote also created a day in their honor.

In 1926, at the age of 26 years old, Mabel was alive when on October 31st, Harry Houdini died in Michigan. Houdini was the most famed magician of his time and perhaps of all time, especially for his acts involving escapes - from handcuffs, straitjackets, chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, and more. He was president of the Society of American Magicians and stringently upheld professional ethics. He died of complications from a ruptured appendix. Although he had received a blow to the area a couple of days previously, the connection between the blow and his appendicitis is disputed.

In 1973, when she was 73 years old, on August 15th, amidst rising calls for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, Congress imposed an end to the bombing of Cambodia.

In 1984, in the year of Mabel Mercer's passing, due to outrage about "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (it seemed too "dark" to many and it was rated PG), a new rating was devised - PG-13. The first film rated PG-13 was "Red Dawn".

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