MABEL MERCER (1900–1984): An English-born cabaret singer who performed in the United States, Britain, and Europe with the greats in jazz and cabaret.
Her mother was a young, white English music hall performer, and her father was a black American jazz musician Mabel never knew. At 14, she left her convent school in Manchester and toured Britain and Europe with her aunt in vaudeville and music hall engagements. By the 1930s, she was the toast of Paris, with admirers including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Cole Porter.
She was a featured performer at Chez Bricktop in Paris 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.
Frank Sinatra frequently attended Mercer's shows and made no secret of his emulating her phrasing and story-telling techniques.
PORTIA NELSON: In the 1950s, her singing was heard throughout Cafe Society Cabaret in New York City (Blue Angel, Bon Soir, Reuban Bleu) and in other cities of the world.
Portia was the protégé of Goddard Lieberson, who instituted the Studio LP at Columbia Records: Broadway shows revived from the original orchestrations. Portia starred on five such LPs for Columbia.
Portia is included in the Smithsonian Collections of the American Popular Song and Songs of Cole Porter and Kurt Weil, and she can be heard on the recordings of the films "The Golden Apple" and "Sound of Music."
As composer-lyricist, Portia wrote the song, "Make a Rainbow," sung by Marilyn Horne at President Clinton's Inaugural Ceremony, as well as "Sunday in New York," her signature song. She wrote several other television musicals for television and material for the Carol Burnett Show.
SUSAN JOHNSON: Susan Johnson is one of the most fondly remembered Broadway performer of the '50s; much more so than her limited output of albums would suggest.
Her voice, a lush mezzo, was adept at handling comic numbers and ballads equally. Best known for originating the sarcastic best friend, Cleo, in "The Most Happy Fella," Johnson's Broadway career was sidelined due to a combination of a horrible traffic accident in 1963 and her focus on family after getting married in 1964.