Savannah’s extraordinary contribution to American music
Since discovery of the lost Creek and Uchee Migration Legends in 2015, we now know that the birthplace of the Creek People was in a large town, where Downtown Savannah, GA now is located. Savannah is also where the Uchee, Itsate and Apalache Peoples landed, when they arrived in North America from across the ocean. That is why POOF gives the Savannah Area special treatment.
The public typically thinks of New York’s Tin Pan Alley or Nashville, Tennessee as America’s music capital. However, long before Country Western music became popular, song writers in Savannah had created many of America’s most beloved Christmas carols then in the late 20th century came the genius of Savannah’s Johnny Mercer. Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, was supposed to be the Indian Agent for the new Province of Georgia, but his work performance was so inept that Supervisor James E. Oglethorpe kept him in Savannah so he could do no more damage to relations between the Creeks and the British. Having nothing to do, Wesley began writing religious music, most notably, Christmas carols. The best known of these today is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
John L. Pierpoint was one of the most prolific music composers in the United States during the 19th century. In 1856, he became the organist for the Savannah Unitarian Church. Perhaps missing the snow of his native New England, he soon composed Jingle Bells. It originally was created as racy drinking song that celebrated a young couple sneaking out into the countryside to make-out after a Thanksgiving dinner. A generation later, it became America’s most popular Christmas song . . . although given its subject matter couldn’t really be labeled a Christmas carol. Pierpoint wrote several hundred songs during the last 37 years of his life, when he lived in Georgia. At least 18 of those songs became nationally popular . . . you might say that they hit the “Top Ten on the music charts.”
Johnny Mercer’s Savannah heritage extended back to the Colonial Era. He lived in Savannah most of his life, but had an apartment in Manhattan, for times when he was working directly with Broadway plays. Georgia provided the inspiration that made him one of America’s most popular and successful songwriters of the twentieth century. Between 1929 and 1976 Mercer penned lyrics to more than 1,000 songs, received nineteen Academy Award nominations, wrote music for a number of Broadway shows, and cofounded Capitol Records. Perhaps best known for the 1961 Academy Award–winning song “Moon River,” Mercer also took Oscars for “Days of Wine and Roses,” “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” and “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe.” These movie hits reflected Mercer’s ties to the Hollywood studios, but the lyricist also wrote songs that became popular because of their commercial appeal, including “Jeepers Creepers,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Glow-Worm,” “Goody Goody,” and “Hooray for Hollywood.” Time and again Mercer drew upon his Georgia heritage for song ideas.
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