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Last modified 6/18/17

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Moon River—Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer (Le Sorelle)

Written by composer Henry Mancini for the film, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Moon River soon became one of the most popular songs of the 1960s. . Renowned lyricist Johnny Mercer penned the lyrics.   


Mancini composed the music specifically for actress Audrey Hepburn.  He once stated that "It's unique for a composer to really be inspired by a person, a face or a personality, but Audrey certainly inspires me. Normally, I have to see a completed film before I'll compose the music, but with Tiffany I knew what to write for Audrey just by reading the script."  


Interestingly, since the actress had no training as a singer, the vocals were written to be sung in only one octave.  In the film (based on a novella by Truman Capote), the actress portrays New York socialite Holly Golightly and sings the song on a fire escape playing an acoustic guitar.


Mancini later reported that after the first preview screening of Breakfast at Tiffany's, the president of Paramount Pictures (the studio which produced the film), “puffed a cigar and announced that the song had to be removed”. The normally gentle Hepburn told him firmly that it would be “over her dead body”.

After Mancini's death, his wife Ginny recalled the way the song unfolded. "We were at home one night and watching Funny Face, in which Audrey Hepburn sings How Long Has This Been Going On”.  Henry then went to the piano and started playing.  It sounded promising and in half an hour he had written the melody of Moon River”.


Mercer drew his lyrical inspiration for Moon River from his carefree childhood in Savannah, Georgia, where he picked huckleberries in the summer.  He also referred to Mark Twain's character Huckleberry Finn in the line “my huckleberry friend”.  However, he later regretted not omitting that line because the song was originally meant to be called "Blue River".  It had to be changed though, when Mercer recalled that a song by that name had already been written.  The “blue” in the original title referred to the deep blue color of huckleberries.

Moon River received an Academy Award in 1961 for Best Original Song (performed by Audrey Hepburn), and Grammy Awards in 1962 for Mancini for Record of the Year and Mercer for Song of the Year.  It also won an additional Grammy for Best Arrangement.  The song has been covered by many other artists, including Andy Williams, who performed it at the 1962 Academy Awards ceremony and made it the theme for his television show.  In fact, there are now over five hundred other known recorded versions of Moon River, including those of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughan, Sarah Brightman, Patty Griffin , Elton John, Morrissey, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and R.E.M.  Mancini always maintained however, that his favorite rendition of the song was the original, sung by Audrey Hepburn.

Moon River

7MoonRiver (1).mp3