The Mabel Mercer Photograph Collection depicts aspects of her personal life and her professional career as a singer and entertainer, mostly from the late 1930s to the 1980s. The collection consists of individual and group studio portraits, candid shots and snapshots of Mercer; her husband, Kelsey Pharr; her companion from her later years, Harry Beard; some family members and various friends; and figures from the entertainment field. Also depicted are nightclub and concert appearances, television appearances, social gatherings, and some views of her home and numerous pets. Views of Mercer's personal life or professional career prior to the late-1930s are limited; there are no views of her performing at Bricktop's Parisian clubs in the 1930s.
Statement of responsibility: Collection contains work by Carl Van Vechten, Marcus Blechman, Avery Willard, Morgan Smith, Roddy McDowall and James J. Kriegsmann, among others.
Biographical/historical: Mabel Alice Wadham Mercer, singer and entertainer, was born in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, in 1900, into a musical and performing family. She began her musical career at age fourteen touring with family members, singing and dancing in stage musicals and comedies in England. After World War I, she toured the European continent and eventually moved to Paris where she became a popular cabaret act at Bricktop's, an African-American-owned nightclub in Paris, from 1931 to 1938. Coming to the United States in 1938, Mercer appeared at the Le Ruban Bleu in New York City for several weeks, followed by appearances in the Bahamas where, because of the outbreak of World War II, she was unable to re-enter the United States until 1941. Back in New York, she performed at various clubs including Tony's, on West 52nd Street, (1942-1949), the Byline Room (1949-1957), Downstairs at the Upstairs, the St. Regis Room and the Hotel Carlisle
A resurgence of interest in Mercer's music in the 1970s led to a PBS television special, "An Evening with Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short and Friends," in 1972; appearances at Carnegie Hall and in London (1977); a five-part BBC television series "Miss Mercer in Mayfair" (ca. 1977); a performance at the 1982 Kool Jazz Festival in New York; and her receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House (1983). Among some of the songs she performed or recorded include "The End of a Love Affair," "While We're Young," "Fly Me to the Moon," "Remind Me," "By Myself" and "Little Boy Blue." She died in 1984 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts