A native of Miami, young Pharr established himself as a distinguished international entertainer, and was a big favorite in America and European theatrical circles.
Pharr first attended school at Mrs. Carrie Anderson's Kindergarten. Later he attended Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. Among other accomplishments while at Dunbar he held the rank of Colonel of the cadet corps, and graduated as the valedictorian of his class.
From high school he entered Northwestern University where he was the first Negro to appear in the University's dramatic production. He also appeared in a number of other dramatic productions in Chicago, and later went on Broadway as a member of the famous "Porgy and Bess" cast.
Pharr left "Porgy and Bess" to join the internationally famous quartet, the Delta Rhythm Boys, where he established an enviable record. The quartet appeared mostly in Europe and later went to Japan, Hawaii and other points in the far east, in addition to a series of appearances in various parts of the United States. The Delta Rhythm Boys were among some of the first Negro groups to appear in Miami Beach. While in Sweden, Pharr me and became a personal friend of Ingemar Johansson.
Pharr was first stricken in Madrid, Spain, and later underwent a major operation in Paris. He spent Christmas of 1960 in Miami with his father and left for Japan for further engagements with the quartet. Later he returned to Honolulu, where he was again strickened (sp) and entered the hospital. Pharr talked by phone with his father the day before he died.
He met and married the former Miss Mabel Mercer in Nassau in 1941. Miss Mercer, from Shropshire, England, was a personal friend of the Duke of Windsor, who at that time was governor of the Bahamas.
Although she never achieved the fame she so richly deserved, Mabel Mercer was one of the most respected singers of the mid-20th century, a most original stylist, and the toast of the New York cabaret scene. After the end of World War I, Mercer settled in Paris, where she met the celebrated Ada "Bricktop" Smith, an American singer and cabaret proprietor whose patrons included Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. During her Paris years, Mercer became friends (and possibly more) with the notoriously eccentric lesbian heiress, speedboat racer, and womanizer Marion “Joe” Carstairs. Carstairs, who had settled in her own "kingdom"--Whale Cay, on an island in the Bahamas--paid Mercer's way across the Atlantic, fearing what the Nazis would do to the biracial singer. Mercer resided in the Bahamas until 1941, when she married Kelsey Pharr, an openly gay African-American musician, and obtained an entry visa from the United States government. The marriage was clearly one of convenience, as Mercer and Pharr never lived together and rarely saw each other; however, Mercer, as a devout Catholic, would not divorce Pharr, and they remained legally married, if in no other sense, until his death.
Mabel Mercer (3 February 1900 – 20 April 1984) was an English-born cabaret singer who performed in the United States, Britain, and Europe with the greats in jazz and cabaret. She was a featured performer at Chez Bricktop in Paris, owned by the hostess Bricktop, and performed in such clubs as Le Ruban Bleu, Tony's, the RSVP, the Carlyle, the St. Regis Hotel, and eventually her own room, the Byline Club. Among those who frequently attended Mercer's shows was Frank Sinatra, who made no secret of his emulating her phrasing and story-telling techniques.
Mercer was born in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England. 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. Her recording career began in 1942, with an album of selections from Porgy and Bess on the elite Liberty Music Shops label, featuring piano accompaniment by Cy Walter. Over the following decades, Mercer made many concert appearances across the U.S. In the late 1960s, she gave two 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.
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" (although it was more than twenty years old at the time) by Stereo Review. That same year, Mercer played at San Francisco's Club Mocambo to sold-out audiences, in celebration of her 78th birthday.
In 1982. Mercer teamed up with her dear friend Eileen Farrell in concert as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. Farrell often expressed it was the one pirated record she wished she had!
In January 1981, she was honored by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York with "An American Cabaret," the only musical event of its kind at that point in the museum's history. Mercer was the first guest on Eileen Farrell's new program featuring great popular singers, on National Public Radio.
Mercer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian medal, in 1983.
When President Ronald Reagan presented it to her in a ceremony at the White House, he called her "a singer's singer" and "a living testament to the artfulness of the American song". She also received two honorary Doctor of Music degrees: one from Boston's Berklee College of Music, the other from the New England Conservatory of Music.
Mabel Mercer died on 20 April 1984, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
In 1985, the Mabel Mercer Foundation was established with the efforts of her long-time friend and professional associate Donald F. Smith. This not-for-profit arts organization was formed to keep Mercer's memory alive, and to contribute to the art of cabaret performing by supporting artists and providing information resources. Its international activities include the debut of the London Cabaret Convention in 2004. The Foundation produced Noël Coward's 100th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall, and also has a Young Person's Series to introduce young people to The Great American Songbook of popular classics.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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