Hall of Honour nominee; Jim Mercer’s love of music escalated from hobby to passion

Frank Gale fgale@thewesternstar.com
Published on February 22, 2011
The button accordion is among the many instruments that Jim Mercer enjoys playing.
Submitted photo

STEPHENVILLE CROSSING — Playing music has been a hobby for Jim Mercer of Stephenville Crossing that since his retirement has turned into a passion.

It all started out at the age of four years when his father gave him a button accordion for his birthday. He started to play it and through the years has taken up playing a long list of instruments.

In recognition of the work he does with musicians, the Bay St. George Folk Arts Council is nominating Mercer for the prestigious Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Hall of Honour Award.

This award recognizes a person, group or organization that has made a distinguished lifetime contribution to the cultural life of Newfoundland and Labrador.

His collection includes a piano, piano accordion, button accordion, fiddle, mandolin, saxophone, bouzouki, concertina, penny whistles and more.

“I never took any lessons,” Mercer said. ‘Music has always been a hobby of mine from when I got that first accordion right up through.”

While he was born on Bell Island in 1943, he has spent most of his adult life on the west coast of Newfoundland. He moved to Stephenville Crossing in 1969 where he and his wife Kay raised their family, and which he now calls home.

His career has been with the Department of Social Services as a social worker and throughout the years he has sat on various committees and at one point held the position of chairperson of the Bay St. George School Board. 

Through the years he became a self-taught multi-instrumentalist with instruments he has acquired.

“I’ve always just played for fun but now that I’m retired and involved with the Bay St. George Folk Arts Council, I’m at it all the time. It’s become a real passion and I enjoy getting together with other musicians for our weekly sessions,” he said.

He and Aldonna O’Keefe, another member of the folk arts council, co-ordinate sessions on Monday nights at Stephenville Elementary School for fiddle and mandolin; and on Wednesday nights at St. Michael’s School in Stephenville Crossing for accordion.

He said this is their third year holding these sessions and they’ve now grown to a group of 36 musicians who play in them on a regular basis, but more are always welcome.

In addition, Mercer often volunteers his musical talents at numerous community events, fundraisers, prisons, and retirement homes.

“We’re certainly blessed with our share of very good musicians here in the Bay St. George area. It’s a wonderful place to have a passion with music,” he said.

Mercer has been a member of the Bay St. George Folk Arts Council since 2007 and an executive member since 2009 and is a passionate teacher and mentor, encouraging others to play and enjoy music.

He often leads musical groups to schools and various events in the community. In 2010 he led a fiddle and mandolin group to Bay Roberts on a musical exchange to liaise and perform with a fiddle group from that area.

Plans are underway to have the Bay Roberts group travel to Stephenville in 2011 to play with musicians in this area.