Created in 1985 as a non-profit arts organization, The Mabel Mercer Foundation serves to both perpetuate the memory and spirit of its legendary namesake and to promote public interest in classic popular song and the art of cabaret.
The work of The Mabel Mercer Foundation is constant and far-reaching. Among its many functions, it exists as a central source of information for artists, presenters, promoters, and the general public. Each year The Foundation receives thousands of telephone inquiries; the office files include material on more than two thousand performers. As such, the small and dedicated Foundation staff works on a daily basis to develop and solidify a community of cabaret artists, producers, and audience members.
Aside from its day-to-day efforts to strengthen support for the art of cabaret, The Foundation sponsors performances and broadcasts by both new and established singers and entertainers. Most dramatically, The Mabel Mercer Foundation presents the annual New York Cabaret Convention at Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz At Lincoln Center. The outreach of The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s activities are supported entirely by ticket sales and contributions.
The Mabel Mercer Foundation continues its efforts outside New York as well. There have been Cabaret Conventions in San Francisco, Long Island, and Chicago, and similar events in Philadelphia and Palm Springs. The Mabel Mercer Foundation has also served as cabaret consultant to The Mayfair Regency Hotel in Chicago and The Bellevue Hotel in Pennsylvania. Internationally, The Foundation debuted the premiere London Cabaret Convention in 2004 as the gala finale of a two-week Musical Voices celebration at The Greenwich Theatre. Future international plans include the participation of The Mabel Mercer Foundation in the Sydney and Adelaide, Australia, cabaret conventions, both of which have patterned their activities on the format and style of the events created by The Foundation at the New York Cabaret Convention.
The American Songbook is one of our national treasures. Thus, the art of cabaret is a gateway to an eternal appreciation of such geniuses as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, E. Y. Harburg, Burton Lane, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Loesser, Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Jule Styne, Jerry Herman, and Stephen Sondheim, among many others. That American popular music and cabaret should — and must — thrive is the avowed declaration and dedication of The Mabel Mercer Foundation. As such, their efforts continue on a daily basis to promote the traditions so eloquently and unforgettably exemplified by Mabel Mercer, arguably the supreme cabaret artist of the twentieth century.
Mabel Mercer — arguably the supreme cabaret artist of the twentieth century — was born in England and performed in the United States, Britain, and across Europe to a large fan base including such big names as Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway. She was a featured performer at Chez Bricktop in Paris, performed Le Ruban Bleu, Tony’s, the RSVP, the Carlyle, and the St Regis Hotel in New York, and eventually hosted her own room, the Byline club.
Mabel Mercer was born in 1900 in Staffordshire, England. After leaving a Manchester convent school at the age of fourteen, Miss Mercer joined her aunt in a vaudeville and music hall tour of Britain and the Continent. Her career quickly blossomed, and by the 1930s she was the toast of Paris, introducing her inimitable style of singing to adoring audiences and beguiling such steadfast admirers as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and the Prince of Wales.
The outbreak of World War II brought her to America where she began a series of engagements at New York’s finest supper clubs. Among the rooms she made her own were Le Ruban Bleu (a six-month stay), Tony’s (seven years), the RSVP (two years), and five years in her own Byline Club. Miss Mercer solidified her career with engagements at the Carlyle and St. Regis Hotels, and she enjoyed brilliant concert triumphs and record-breaking appearances across the United States.
The brilliance of Miss Mercer’s recordings have made both original albums and numerous reissues highly prized collectors’ items. To honor her 75th birthday in 1975, Atlantic Records assembled four classic early LPs and reissued them in a boxed set. In recognition of her life’s achievement, Stereo Review Magazine presented Miss Mercer with its first Award of Merit for “outstanding contributions to the quality of American musical life.” In 1984, the Award of Merit was officially renamed the Mabel Mercer Award. After an absence of 41 years, Miss Mercer made her long-awaited return to England on July 4, 1977, accompanied by her long-time friend and publicist, Donald Smith. So great was the public acclaim on her return to London that the BBC filmed three evenings of extraordinary footage of Miss Mercer’s performances. The BBC later devoted an entire week to a series of late-night half-hour television broadcasts—an honor never before bestowed upon an entertainer. In 1978, Miss Mercer’s new album, Midnight at Mabel Mercer’s, was hailed by Stereo Review as one of the best recordings of the past twenty years. To celebrate her 78th birthday later that year, Miss Mercer played a sold-out engagement at San Francisco’s Club Mocambo to enthusiastic audiences. Mabel Mercer was honored in January 1981 by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York with An American Cabaret, the first musical celebration of its kind in the museum’s history. Created and produced by Donald Smith, the evening was dedicated to the artistry of Mabel Mercer. Miss Mercer next appeared as the first guest on Eileen Farrell’s new National Public Radio program featuring great popular singers, a program that was repeated in June 1992 at the Kool Jazz Festival.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan presented Mabel Mercer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony. In bestowing America’s highest civilian honor upon Miss Mercer, the president described her as “a singer’s singer” and “a living testament to the artfulness of the American song.” Among Miss Mercer’s many other honors are two honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Boston’s Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. Mabel Mercer died on April 20, 1984. On Miss Mercer’s birthday the following year, February 3, 1985, The Mabel Mercer Foundation was formally established.