cover image Mabel Mercer: A Life

Mabel Mercer: A Life

James Haskins. Atheneum Books, $0 (217pp) ISBN 978-0-689-11595-0

This is a thin biography of the late British-born cabaret chanteuse-diseuse who made a reputation in France and spent the major part of her career in New York, admired by the likes of Billy Holiday and Frank Sinatra. Haskins (Bricktop, The Cotton Club) has particular trouble with Mercer's pre-Paris years, perhaps because she was always reticent about her childhood. The illegitimate daughter of a black American musician father and a white British music-hall performer mother, she was raised by her grandmother until sent to a convent school. She performed on the stage in England with no great success and then went to Paris, where she was helped to stardom by the legendary Bricktop. At the outbreak of World War II, Mercer came to the U.S. where her fame grew slowly but steadily. She died in 1984. Photos not seen by PW. (November 24)