Moon River

"Moon River" is a song composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song.[1] The song also won the 1962 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.[2]

"Moon River"
Single by Henry Mancini & Orchestra
from the album Breakfast at Tiffany's: Music from the Motion Picture
B-side"Breakfast at Tiffany's"
ReleasedOctober 1961 (1961)
StudioRCA Music Center of the World, Hollywood, California
LabelRCA Victor
Composer(s)Henry Mancini
Lyricist(s)Johnny Mercer
Producer(s)Dick Peirce, Joe Reisman
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The song has been covered by many other artists.[3] It became the theme song for Andy Williams, who first recorded it in 1962 (and performed it at the Academy Awards ceremony that year). He sang the first eight bars of the song at the beginning of each episode of his eponymous television show and named his production company and venue in Branson, Missouri, after it; his autobiography is called "Moon River" and Me. Williams' version was never released as a single, but it charted as an LP track that he recorded for Columbia on a hit album of 1962, Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes.[4]

The song's success was responsible for relaunching Mercer's career as a songwriter, which had stalled in the mid-1950s because rock and roll had replaced jazz standards as the popular music of the time. The song's popularity is such that it has been used as a test sample in a study on people's memories of popular songs.[5]

Comments about the lyrics have noted that they are particularly reminiscent of Mercer's youth in the Southern United States and his longing to expand his horizons.[6] Robert Wright wrote in The Atlantic Monthly, "This is a love sung [sic] to wanderlust. Or a romantic song in which the romantic partner is the idea of romance."[7] An inlet near Savannah, Georgia, Johnny Mercer's hometown, was named Moon River in honor of him and this song.[5]



Mercer and Mancini wrote the song for Audrey Hepburn to sing in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's. The lyrics, written by Mercer, are reminiscent of his childhood in Savannah, Georgia, including its waterways. As a child, he had picked huckleberries in summer, and connected them with a carefree childhood and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Although an instrumental version is played over the film's opening titles, the lyrics are first heard in a scene where Paul "Fred" Varjak (George Peppard) discovers Holly Golightly (Hepburn) singing the song, and accompanying herself on the guitar, while sitting on the fire escape outside their apartments.[3][6]

There was an eruption of behind-the-scenes consternation when a Paramount Pictures executive, Martin Rackin, suggested removing the song from the film after a tepid Los Angeles preview. Hepburn's reaction was described by Mancini and others in degrees varying from her saying, "Over my dead body!" to her using more colorful language to make the same point.[8]

An album version was recorded by Mancini and his orchestra and chorus (without Hepburn's vocal) on December 8, 1960.[9] It was released as a single in 1961 and became a number 11 hit in December of that year.[10] Due to unpublished charts in Billboard, Joel Whitburn's Top Adult (Contemporary) Songs variously reported the song as a #3 or #1 easy listening hit. Mancini's original version was also featured in the film Born on the Fourth of July (1989). In 1993, following Hepburn's death, her version was released on an album titled Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn. In 2004, Hepburn's version finished at #4 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

Early recordings

"Moon River"
Single by Jerry Butler
from the album Moon River
A-side"Aware of Love"
Released1961 (1961)
RecordedOctober 1961
StudioUniversal Recording Studio, Chicago, Illinois
GenrePop, R&B
Composer(s)Henry Mancini
Lyricist(s)Johnny Mercer
Producer(s)Riley C. Hampton

"Moon River" was a hit single for Jerry Butler in late 1961. Released simultaneously with Mancini's, it reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart[11] and number 3 Easy Listening[12] in December, two weeks before Mancini's recording reached the same chart ranking. Danny Williams had a hit version of the song that reached number one in the UK in the final week of 1961.[1] Although Andy Williams never released the song as a single, his LP Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes (1962), was certified gold in 1963 for selling one million units.[13] The album reached number 3 on the Billboard Top 200, eventually selling more than two million copies by 1967.[14] Cadence Records' president Archie Bleyer disliked Williams' version, believing that it had little or no appeal to teenagers.[4] In 2002, a 74-year-old Williams sang the song at the conclusion of the live NBC special telecast celebrating the network's 75th anniversary.[15]

Chart history

Henry Mancini & Orchestra
Chart (1961–62) Peak
Canada (CHUM Hit Parade)[16] 14
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[17] 11
U.S. Billboard Easy Listening 3
U.S. Cash Box Top 100[18] 5
Jerry Butler
Chart (1961–62) Peak
Canada (CHUM Hit Parade)[16] 14
New Zealand (Listener)[19] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[17] 11
U.S. Billboard Easy Listening 3
U.S. Cash Box Top 100[18] 5
Danny Williams
Chart (1961–62) Peak
UK Singles Chart[1] 1

Later versions

Hundreds of versions of the song have been recorded, and it has been featured in numerous media.[3][20] Mercer recorded the song in 1974 for his album My Huckleberry Friend.[21] In 2007, saxophonist Dave Koz recorded a version from his standards music album, At the Movies, sung by Barry Manilow.[22][23][24] In 2013, Neil Finn and Paul Kelly performed the song on their Goin' Your Way Tour,[25][26] during which their performance at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall was recorded for the live album, Goin' Your Way, released the same year.[27] The title of the album comes from a phrase in the song's chorus: "Wherever you're goin', I'm goin' your way".[28] Lawrence Welk's 1961 instrumental version was featured in Mad Men season 6, episode 13, "In Care Of" (2013).[29] A version of the song was featured in Asif Kapadia's documentary film, Amy (2015), about Amy Winehouse. Winehouse's version, sung at age 16 with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2000, is the opening song in the film.[30]

The Telegraph listed, among prominent covers of the song, those by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Brightman and Chevy Chase.[3] Other stars who have covered the song include Rod Stewart in Fly Me to the Moon... The Great American Songbook Volume V (2010), which charted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200,[31] and Barbra Streisand in The Movie Album (2003), a Grammy-nominated[32] gold album.[33] named these the "Top 5 Alt-Rock" versions of the song: The Killers, Glasvegas, R.E.M., Morrissey and Josh Ritter.[34] In 2019, Jacob Collier's a capella cover was nominated for a Grammy Award.[35]

See also


  1. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 135. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  2. "Moon River by Henry Mancini".
  3. Cryer, Max. "The story behind the song: Moon River", The Telegraph, October 7, 2008, accessed January 6, 2016
  4. Thomas, Bob; Salter, Jim (September 26, 2012). "'Moon River' Crooner Andy Williams Dies at Age 84". Associated Press. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  5. Bartlett, James C., and Snelus, Paul; Snelus, Paul (September 1980). "Lifespan Memory for Popular Songs". The American Journal of Psychology. University of Illinois Press. 93 (3): 551–560. doi:10.2307/1422730. JSTOR 1422730.
  6. Holden, Stephen (March 30, 1997). "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of Mercer's Lyrics". The New York Times. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  7. Wright, Robert. "Andy Williams's Moon River – Decoded and Vindicated at Last!", The Atlantic Monthly, September 27, 2012, accessed January 6, 2016
  8. Spoto, Donald (2007). Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn. Arrow Books. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-09-948704-3.
  9. "Henry Mancini – Breakfast At Tiffany's (Music From The Motion Picture Score)". Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  10. "Hot 100 for Week Ending December 31". Billboard Music Week. 78 (51). December 25, 1961. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  11. "Hot 100 for Week Ending December 17". Billboard Music Week. 78 (49). December 11, 1961.
  12. Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 37.
  13. "American certifications – Moon River _ Other Great Movie Themes". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  14. Clive Davis (November 11, 1967). "Columbia's View: Market Potential". Billboard. p. 26. ISSN 0006-2510. [Special Issue titled A Billboard Spotlight: Andy Williams]
  15. Boedeker, Hal (May 7, 2002). "TV Reviews". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  16. CHUM Hit Parade, October 30, 1961
  17. Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  18. Cash Box Top 100 Singles, December 9, 1961
  19. Flavour of New Zealand, 28 December 1961
  20. Testa, Jessica. "13 'Moon River' Covers, In Memory of Andy Williams", BuzzFeed, September 26, 2012, accessed January 6, 2016
  21. Mercer, Johnny. My Huckleberry Friend, Pye NSPL18432 (1974) ASIN: B008K7RPIK
  22. Soergel, Brian (May 24, 2007). "Dave Koz's Secret Symphony Gig".
  23. Ware, Elizabeth (October 3, 2007). "Dave Koz - At The Movies".
  24. Moon River at AllMusic
  25. Shedden, Iain (November 16, 2013). "Goin' Your Way (Neil Finn and Paul Kelly)". The Australian. News Corp Australia. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  26. "Neil Finn/Paul Kelly Australian Tour – Latest Dates". Neil Finn Official Website. January 2013. Archived from the original on December 19, 2013. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  27. "Watch Paul Kelly & Neil Finn Concert". Paul Kelly Official Website. March 20, 2013. Archived from the original on March 23, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  28. McArthur, Rachael (November 11, 2013). "Neil Finn and Paul Kelly – Goin' Your Way". Renowned for Sound (Brendon Veevers, Robert Lee). Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  29. "Season Finale Review: Mad Men: "In Care Of" (Both Sides Now)". Hitfix: What's Alan Watching?. June 2013.
  30. Pattison, Michael. "Weighing Up the Pros and Cons of the New Amy Winehouse Documentary",, July 1, 2015
  31. Fly Me to the Moon: The Great American Songbook, Vol. 5,, accessed January 8, 2015
  32. Santopietro, Tom. The Importance of Being Barbra, Macmillan (2007) ISBN 142990853X
  33. "Barbra Streisand", RIAA, accessed January 8, 2016
  34. Robinson, Joe. "Andy Williams Tribute: Top 5 Alt-Rock Versions of 'Moon River'",, September 2012, accessed January 6, 2016
  35. Lewis, Dave (November 20, 2019). "2020 Grammy nominations complete list: See who's up for what". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
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