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Gene Lees papers

Identifier: M060

Scope and Content of the Papers

The materials of the Gene Lees Papers are comprised of the research that Lees undertook in the writing of his biography on songwriter Johnny Mercer, Portrait of Johnny: the life of John Herndon Mercer. The date span of Lees papers reflects the 14 years he spent researching, studying and writing about the late songwriter, as well as the dates of his source materials. These materials cover Mercer's family history, his professional career as a songwriter, and his influence on entertainers and colleagues. Lees papers reflect a strong reliance on the personal memories of others; particularly, the neice of Johnny Mercer, Nancy Mercer Gerard; Nick Mamalakis, the Mercer family attorney and the family friend Joan Clarke. His correspondence with the entertainer Steve Allen sheds light on the social life of Johnny Mercer and Allen's great admiration for Mercer's songwriting talent.


  • Creation: 1808-2004
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1990 - 2004


Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research use.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Georgia State University is the owner of the physical collection and makes reproductions available for research, subject to the copyright law of the United States and item condition. Georgia State University may or may not own the rights to materials in the collection. It is the researcher's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and obtain permission from the copyright holder before publication, reproduction, or display of the materials beyond what is reasonable under copyright law. Researchers may quote selections from the collection under the fair use provision of copyright law.

Biography of Gene Lees

Gene Lees (Frederick Eugene John) was born in Ontario, Canada on February 8, 1928. He has worked as a journalist, lyricist, singer, composer, broadcaster and author. After working from 1948-55 as a reporter in Canada, Lees was music and drama critic for the Louisville (Kentucky) Times and in 1959-1962 was an editor of the jazz magazine Down Beat (Chicago). Working on a freelance basis, he also wrote for Stereo Review (New York) and High Fidelity (Great Barrington, Massachusetts), Maclean's, the Toronto Star, the Toronto Globe and Mail, The New York Times, and other publications. In 1967, he published a novel, And Sleep Until Noon. He received the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1978 for a series of articles published in High Fidelity about US music, and won the award on two subsequent occasions. In 1981 he established his own monthly Jazzletter (Ojai, California), which became an influential source of informed opinion, by Lees and others, within the industry.

In the 1980s Lees began to focus his attention on longer works of prose. In 1981 he published The Modern Rhyming Dictionary: How to Write Lyrics. He followed this with three compilations of pieces from Jazzletter: "Singers and the Song" (1987), "Meet Me at Jim & Andy's" (1988), and "Waiting for Dizzy" (1991); and a biography, Oscar Peterson: The Will to Swing (1988). Other biographies have included portraits of Lerner and Loewe, Woody Herman (written with Graham Lees), and Dave Brubeck (with Fred M. Hall). In 1989 he collaborated with Henry Mancini on the composer's autobiography, Did They Mention the Music? Always known for his first-person reminiscences of musicians, Lees combined biography and autobiography in Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White in 1994 and You Can't Steal a Gift: Dizzy, Clark, Milt and Nat in 2001. In 2003 he published another autobiographical work, Friends Along the Way: A Journey Through Jazz. Lees other literary contributions to the music world include liner notes to close to 100 recordings of artists including Stan Getz, John Coltrane, and Quincy Jones.


0.63 Linear Feet (in 2 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection consists of research materials used by Gene Lees when he was writing his Johnny Mercer biography, Portrait of Johnny: The life of John Herndon Mercer. The papers include the correspondence files of both Gene Lees and Johnny Mercer, Mercer family biographical information, page proofs of Portrait of Johnny, as well as an unpublished manuscript entitled Song Lake Summer. Other research materials of interest include an unpublished manuscript on Mercer by the entertainer Steve Allen.


The papers are arranged into two series:

  1. Series I: Research materials, 1808-2004, bulk: 1924-2004
  2. Series II: Manuscripts, 2004

Off-Site Storage

Collection is stored offsite. Allow at least 2 working days for retrieval.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Gene Lees, 2004.


Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed on February 13, 2018.

Processing Information

Processed by Mary McMahon Dawson at the file level, 2006.

Gene Lees:
A Guide to His Papers at Georgia State University Library
Georgia State University Library
January 27, 2006
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

100 Decatur St., S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
404-413-2881 (Fax)