Unknown works found in Key West storage bin - Carmen Rodriguez et al. posing for the camera - Tennessee Williams
From left, three of Key West’s favorite performers, Danny Weathers, Carmen Rodriguez and Bobby Nesbitt, will share the stage Jan. 20 and 21 at Tennessee Williams Theatre. Photo provided by Bobby Nesbitt

Key West music man Bobby Nesbitt was reasonably confident he was aware of all Johnny Mercer’s musical compositions.

Nesbitt, after all, had been assembling and arranging, researching and rehearsing his latest Bobby in the Lobby concert at Tennessee Williams Theater at The College of the Florida Keys highlighting Mercer’s musical achievements.

“We brought back the Bobby in the Lobby concert series last year, and the upcoming shows on Jan. 20 and 21 feature the beloved Danny Weathers and Carmen Rodriguez,” Nesbitt said. “Danny came back from Palm Springs for this one, and both shows are nearly sold out. But the exciting part came while I was researching Mercer’s music.”

Unknown works found in Key West storage bin - A person sitting in front of a piano - Johnny Mercer
Johnny Mercer was an Oscar-winning songwriter, Broadway lyricist and singer from the 1930s-’60s. WILLIAM P. GOTTLIEB/Library of Congress

Singer, songwriter and composer Johnny Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1909, and made a big name for himself writing songs as well as lyrics for Broadway musicals from the 1930s through the 1950s. His repertoire includes “Moon River,” “Hurray for Hollywood,” “Days of Wine and Roses” and more than 1,500 others. Mercer also co-founded Capitol Records, was nominated for 19 Oscars and won two Best Original Song Oscars.

“I thought I knew about everything Mercer had done,” Nesbitt said. “And I had a copy of ‘The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer.’”

Then Nesbitt got a call from his friend, Key West resident Ellen Steininger.

“She said she had a whole box of Johnny Mercer stuff, because her late father-in-law, Franz Steininger, was a composer who had collaborated with Mercer around 19621 on a musical called ‘Three Arabian Knights,’” Nesbitt said. “She had in her Key West apartment a complete script, a book of lyrics and reel-to- reeldemo tapes of the songs, which we had transferred to crystal-clear digital recordings.”

Nesbitt couldn’t find any previous references to the musical with Steininger; the songs were absent from “The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer,” he said.

“This was a pretty big discovery in the music world,” Nesbitt said. “After all, it’s not as if people find ‘new’ Gershwin songs or Cole Porter songs every day.”

Nesbitt contacted the Johnny Mercer Archives at Georgia State University, and while the archivists there had heard about the musical, they knew nothing about its content.

“So they certainly were eager to hear it, to know more and have it in their collection,” said Nesbitt, who will perform a few of the newly discovered songs at the Jan. 20 and 21 shows.

Nesbitt also shared the discovery with musician and musical historian Michael Feinstein, who responded to Nesbitt’s correspondence: “This is a fascinating find and I would love to hear the recordings and see the music. It’s a wonderful discovery and I agree, the material would be best housed at the Mercer Archives at Georgia State University.”

“It’s been an exciting show to assemble,” said Nesbitt, “and I’m thrilled to share this discovery with Danny Weathers and Carmen Rodriguez.”

 

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