Her mother was a young, white English music hall performer, and her father was a black American jazz musician whom Mabel never knew. At age fourteen, she left her convent school in Manchester, and toured Britain and Europe with her aunt in vaudeville and music hall engagements. 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. She also made many concert appearances across the U.S.
In the late 1960s, she gave two legendary 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. A photograph of Mercer in later life, from the archives of The Mabel Mercer Foundation. 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" by Stereo Review. That same year, Mercer played at San Francisco's Club Mocambo to sold-out audiences, in celebration of her 78th birthday. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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