Moon River

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This article is about the song. For other uses, see Moon River (disambiguation).
"Moon River"
Song by Audrey Hepburn (performer) from the album Breakfast at Tiffany's: Music from the Motion Picture
Released 1962
Recorded 1961
Genre Easy listening
Label RCA Victor Records
Writer(s) Johnny Mercer
Composer(s) Henry Mancini
Music sample
Theme of "Moon River" composed by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer

"Moon River" is a song composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It received an Academy Award for Best Original Song for its performance by Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).[1] It also won Mancini the 1962 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and won Mancini and Mercer the Grammy Award for Song of the Year.[2] The song has been covered by many other artists.

It became the theme song for Andy Williams, who first recorded it in 1961 and performed it at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1962. 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. Cadence Records' president Archie Bleyer disliked Williams' version, as Bleyer believed it had little or no appeal to teenagers.[3] Forty years later in 2002, a 74-year-old Williams sang the song at the conclusion of the live telecast of the NBC 75th Anniversary Special to a standing ovation.[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 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 fit her vocal range. 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.[6][8]

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 them, accompanied by her guitar, on the fire escape outside their apartments.

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 somewhat more colorful language to make the same point.[9] Hepburn's version was uncredited in the original movie soundtrack.

An album version recorded by Mancini and his chorus was released as a single and became a number 11 hit in December 1961.[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.


"Moon River" was a hit single for Jerry Butler in late 1961; it reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December,[11] two weeks before Mancini's recording reached the same spot. 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 sales grossing over $1 million.[12]

Hundreds of versions of the song have been recorded, and it has been featured in numerous media.[8] Mercer recorded the song in 1974 for his album My Huckleberry Friend.[13] In 2007, saxophonist Dave Koz recorded a version from his standards music album, At the Movies, sung by Barry Manilow.[14][15][16] In 2013, Neil Finn and Paul Kelly performed the song on their Goin' Your Way Tour,[17][18] during which their performance at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall was recorded for the live album, Goin' Your Way, released the same year.[19] The title of the album comes from a phrase in the song's chorus: "Wherever you're goin', I'm goin' your way".[20] Lawrence Welk's 1961 instrumental version was featured in Mad Men season 6, episode 13, "In Care Of" (2013).[21] 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.[22]

BuzzFeed selected 13 covers of the song to mark the death of Andy Williams, including those by Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Joey McIntyre, Patty Griffin, Elton John, Lisa Hannigan, Morrissey (1994), Clay Aiken on his 2010 album Tried and True, The Killers, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Westlife, Chevy Chase and R.E.M.[23] named these the "Top 5 Alt-Rock" versions of the song, overlapping with BuzzFeed's list: The Killers, Glasvegas, R.E.M., Morrissey and Josh Ritter.[24] The Telegraph highlighted covers by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughan, Armstrong, Sarah Brightman and Chase.[8] 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,[25] and Barbra Streisand in The Movie Album (2003), a Grammy-nominated[26] gold album.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ Thomas, Bob; Salter, Jim (September 26, 2012). "'Moon River' Crooner Andy Williams Dies at Age 84". Associated Press. Retrieved May 10, 2015. 
  4. ^ Boedeker, Hal (May 7, 2002). "TV Reviews". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved May 10, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b 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. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (March 30, 1997). "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of Mercer's Lyrics". 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. ^ a b c Cryer, Max. "The story behind the song: Moon River", The Telegraph, October 7, 2008, accessed January 6, 2016
  9. ^ Spoto, Donald (2007). Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn. Arrow Books. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-09-948704-3. 
  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. ^ "American certifications – Moon River _ Other Great Movie Themes". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved June 24, 2011. 
  13. ^ Mercer, Johnny. My Huckleberry Friend, Pye NSPL18432 (1974) ASIN: B008K7RPIK
  14. ^ Soergel, Brian (May 24, 2007). "Dave Koz's Secret Symphony Gig". 
  15. ^ Ware, Elizabeth (October 3, 2007). "Dave Koz - At The Movies". 
  16. ^ Moon River at AllMusic
  17. ^ Shedden, Iain (November 16, 2013). "Goin' Your Way (Neil Finn and Paul Kelly)". The Australian. News Corp Australia. Retrieved December 16, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Neil Finn/Paul Kelly Australian Tour – Latest Dates". Neil Finn Official Website. January 2013. Retrieved December 16, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Watch Paul Kelly & Neil Finn Concert". Paul Kelly Official Website. March 20, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013. 
  20. ^ McArthur, Rachael (November 11, 2013). "Neil Finn and Paul Kelly – Goin' Your Way". Renowned for Sound (Brendon Veevers, Robert Lee). Retrieved December 18, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Season Finale Review: Mad Men: "In Care Of" (Both Sides Now)". Hitfix: What's Alan Watching?. June 2013. 
  22. ^ Pattison, Michael. "Weighing Up the Pros and Cons of the New Amy Winehouse Documentary",, July 1, 2015
  23. ^ Testa, Jessica. "13 'Moon River' Covers, In Memory of Andy Williams", BuzzFeed, September 26, 2012, accessed January 6, 2016
  24. ^ Robinson, Joe. "Andy Williams Tribute: Top 5 Alt-Rock Versions of 'Moon River'",, September 2012, accessed January 6, 2016
  25. ^ Fly Me to the Moon: The Great American Songbook, Vol. 5,, accessed January 8, 2015
  26. ^ Santopietro, Tom. The Importance of Being Barbra, Macmillan (2007) ISBN 142990853X
  27. ^ "Barbra Streisand", RIAA, accessed January 8, 2016

External links[edit]