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"MOON RIVER"

Memories of Henry Mancini

 

 

I offer this tribute to a film composer and songwriter I've admired since I first heard his wonderful music in the 1950s.

The year 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of his best known and first of his Oscar-winning songs, "Moon River," and he also received another Oscar for his score to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961).

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 16, 1924.

He was given the name Enrico Nicola Mancini at birth in Cleveland.  Even though born there, he considered his hometown to be West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania where he grew up.  There he was first flutist in the All-State High School Band and also played for the local Sons of Italy band.  After his service during World War II, he got a job as arranger for the Tex Beneke led Glenn Miller band in the late 1940s.  

In the early 1950s, he worked on the music staff at Universal-International, composing score cues (along with Herman Stein, Irving Gertz and others) for such '50s sci-fi fan favorites as CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.

 Mancini received his first Oscar nomination for adapting the score for THE GLENN MILLER STORY in 1954.  Then there was the historic jazz score he composed for the popular TV cop series, PETER GUNN. If I may add a personal note here -- the landmark jazz soundtrack from the television series PETER GUNN was the very first LP I owned and I still have it in my library.  


I selected the remastered CD of Mancini's PETER GUNN as Editor's Choice, Best of the Month, July 1999.  

After that milestone jazz score, he went on to score a series of popular films directed by Blake Edwards that established Mancini as one the best film composers of the 1960s Certainly he was the most popular film composer of that decade.  He would continue to compose memorable scores, winning 4 Oscars for his work in 1961 (song & score), 1962, and 1982.

Mancini's unforgettable themes and songs are now part of the musical fabric of many people's lives.  Just think about these themes:   PETER GUNN, MR. LUCKY, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, THE PINK PANTHER.  And that's only within the space of five years!

When asked to name his favorite song, Henry Mancini said it was "Two for the Road" (1967), which is a favorite of mine also.  All of these wonderful songs are included on an excellent tribute CD, featuring his talented daughter Monica Mancini, and titled, Ultimate Mancini.

To help celebrate what would have been his 80th birthday, the United States Postal Service issued a 37 cent First Class stamp in tribute to Henry Mancini.  A copy of that attractive stamp is included on the cover of the Ultimate Mancini CD. The US stamp campaign was led by Mancini's widow, Ginny Mancini, a former singer with Mel Torme and the Mel-Tones in the 1940s.

On April 13, 2004, a special Henry Mancini Tribute was given at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Among the performers were: Michael Feinstein, James and Jeanne Galway, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and Take 6, and Monica Mancini.  The Alumni Orchestra of the Henry Mancini Institute was under the direction of Patrick Williams. What a great way to pay tribute to this wonderful film composer and songwriter!  

 

I was very touched by Audrey Hepburn's lovely letter -- included on the back of the original 1961 soundtrack of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S -- another of my early LP purchases.   In her letter to Henry Mancini, she nicely summarizes what good film music should achieve:

A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality.  Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring.  Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty. You are the hippest of cats - and most sensitive of composers. Thank you, dear Hank.

Lots of love, Audrey


Some of his best known movie music had lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer, including these two Oscar-winning songs:



"Moon River" from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961)
(#4 on The Top 100 Movie Songs from American Film Institute)

"Days Of Wine And Roses" from film of same title (1962)
(#39 on The Top 100 Movie Songs from American Film Institute)

They were the first songwriting duo to receive back-to-back Oscars for their movie songs.

Also consider these two lovely Oscar-nominated songs:

"Charade" title song from film of same title (1963)

"Whistling Away the Dark" from DARLING LILI (1970)

 

I never got to meet Henry Mancini in person, though I did get to see him conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony just a few years before he died.  When I wrote him, he was kind enough to send me a signed photo.  I included it along with a signed photo of his collaborator, Johnny Mercer, and with a few bars of their classic song " Moon River," in a place of honor on the Dediction page of my book with music and video bonus features titled,
A Guide to Film Music.

One of his biggest early hits was the theme for the television series, MR. LUCKY, which received several Grammy Awards in 1960 and the LP album was a best seller too. Years later, some of that was arranged in a suite by Mancini which he cleverly titled: "PETER GUNN MEETS MR. LUCKY" and it was included on a great sounding Surround Sound CD [shown at right].

I believe he was "lucky," because he came along at just the right time in the music world. And his listeners were "lucky" too since they have some of the most enjoyable film music of that era offered up by a master musician and composer. 

In 1990, he was the first (and still the only) living film composer that I named for a Lifetime Achievement for a Past Film Composer. All other composers and songwriters were selected after their passing.

Henry Mancini was my first film music hero back in those days of smooth and seductive music. Just listen to that marvelous opening of "Moon River" in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANTY's when the harmonica first plays that gorgeous theme and you'll hear what goose-bump music sounds like.

Henry Mancini was the coolest of cats and a masterful maestro of melody.

Long may his memorable music live on!

 

Roger Hall
Editor, Film Music Review,
November 2011

 

 

Mancini Speaks

A special CDR has been prepared that includes a special radio tribute by Roger Hall from 1989 with some of his early music from television and movies, such as PETER GUNN and THE PINK PANTHER, plus a call-in radio program with Henry Mancini.

Order your copy of Henry Mancini On Radio (AMRC 0019).

 

 

If you want to read a wonderfully honest autobiography, get your copy of

Did They Mention the Music?: The Autobiography of Henry Mancini

Did They Mention the Music?
by Henry Mancini with Gene Lees

It was first published in hardcover in 1989 and went out-of-print. It has been reprinted in paperback by Cooper Square Press in 2002.  As Gene Lees wrote in his postscript about Henry Mancini:  

"The world is a better place because he lived in it,
but a smaller place because he left it."

This autobiography is must reading for Mancini fans.

 

"Moon River" Remembered

Also recommended is another memoir by the singer most identified with the Oscar-winning song,

"It was sheer chance -- and my great good luck -- that I was asked to sing one of the most beautiful songs I'd ever heard, 'Moon River' by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. Henry said, 'Andy, this would be a great song for you.' I've never released it as a single, but it has become my signature tune, the song with which I'm always identified." -- Andy Williams

Andy Williams:   Moon River and Me, A Memoir

Moon River and Me

May you continue to sing for the angels.
R.I.P. - Andy Williams.

 

Mancini On Disc

Of the many Mancini CDs available, here are a few worth considering:

 

 

Henry Mancini Greatest Hits

Henry Mancini - Greatest Hits

 

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (soundtrack album)

 

Music from PETER GUNN
(Re-mastered from the Original, with Bonus Tracks)

 


THE PINK PANTHER
(Re-mastered from the Original, with Bonus Tracks)

 

 


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