News of Margaret Whiting's death at 86 on Monday must have sent her fans to the shelves in search of her recording of Moonlight in Vermont." She recorded the song in 1943 when she was 19. It helped make her a star, and she stayed on the charts well into the 1960s, surviving even as rock and roll displaced scores of her pop music contemporaries.
Johnny Mercer did not write the lyric for Moonlight in Vermont," but when he was the creative power at Capitol Records he chose the song for Whiting. Mercer and Frank Loesser helped shape her singing from the time she was the grade school daughter of their fellow songwriter Richard Whiting. In a passage from Gene Lees' Mercer biography Portrait of Johnny, Whiting recalled how Mercer prepared her for the record session.
..."Johnny said, 'I want you to think, what does Vermont mean to you?'
I said, 'A calendar with a church in the snow.'
He said, 'there are more images.'
I said, 'Well, there's got to be summer, winter, fall. Fall. Everybody goes to see Vermont in the fall for the leaves.'
He said, 'I want you to think of those pictures. I want you to think of the coming of spring. I want you to think of summer, people swimming and people walking, people having a lovely time outdoors.'
So we go in and record it and I'm envisioning all these pictures. It gave me something to go on. That's what he taught me and that's what Loesser taught me. Pick up that sheet music and look at those lyrics and make them mean something. Read the lyric aloud, over and over and over. Recite it until you get it. Your own natural instincts will tell you."
Here's the record: Trumpeter Billy Butterfield and his orchestra, with Margaret Whiting's vocal.
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