"Moon River" is a song composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics written by Johnny Mercer. It received an Academy Award for Best Original Song for its first performance by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. It also won Mancini the 1962 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Mercer the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Since its original performance, 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 ceremonies in 1962. He sang the first eight bars at the beginning of his eponymous television show and named his production company and venue in Branson, Missouri after it. Williams' version never charted, except as an LP track, which he recorded for Columbia in a hit album of 1962. Cadence Records' president Archie Bleyer disliked Williams' version, as Bleyer believed it had little or no appeal to teenagers.
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 replaced jazz standards as the popular musicof 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.
Comments about the song have noted that it is particularly reminiscent of Mercer's youth in the Southern United States. An inlet near Savannah, Georgia, Johnny Mercer's hometown, was named Moon River in honor of him and this song.
Mercer and Mancini wrote the song for Audrey Hepburn to fit her vocal range. Initially, the lyrics started, "I'm Holly, like I want to be / like Holly on a tree back home ..."; however, they were later changed to fit the theme of the filmBreakfast at Tiffany's.
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 much behind-the-scenes consternation when a Paramount Pictures executive, Martin Rackin, suggested deleting the song from the film immediately after a very successful San Francisco 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.
Hepburn's version was not included in the original movie soundtrack. Instead, an album version recorded by Mancini and his chorus was released as a single and became a number 11 hit. In different versions, Joel Whitburn's Top Adult (Contemporary) Songs reported the song as a #3 or #1 easy listening hit, due to unpublished charts in Billboard. Only months after Hepburn's death in 1993 her version was released on an album titled Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn
"Moon River" was a hit single for Jerry Butler in late 1961, reaching number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December, two weeks before Mancini's recording reached the same spot. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, South African singer Danny Williams had a hit version of the song that reached number one in the UK in the final week of 1961. Although Andy Williams never released the song as a single, his LP Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes, released in the spring of 1962, was certified Gold in October 1963 for sales grossing over $1 million.
Other artists who have covered the song include Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (instrumental), Aretha Franklin, Ann-Margret in 1962, Jonny Fair (Live), Lena Horne, Nico Fidenco in Italian (1962), Joni James (1963), Jay and the Americans (1962), Pat Boone (1963), Bobby Solo in Italian (1966), The Afghan Whigs,Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (instrumental, 1969) Paul Anka, Blake, Louis Armstrong, Vic Damone, Billy Stewart in 1965, Bobby Vinton in 1965, Vince Guaraldi, Beru Revue, Mary Black, Sarah Brightman, Liz Callaway, Perry Como, Ben E. King, Ray Conniff, Bobby Darin, Ania Dąbrowska, Dr. John, Dump, Billy Eckstine, The Four Freshmen, Connie Francis, Bill Frisell(instrumental), Emi Fujita, John Frusciante, Vincent Gallo, Judy Garland, Nora Aunor (live),PJ Harvey, Duane Eddy (instrumental in 1962), Karel Gott, Grant Green (instrumental), Patty Griffin, The Innocence Mission (this version is sometimes incorrectly attributed to actress Milla Jovovich), Josh Ritter in his acoustic session for the website Daytrotter, Bradley Joseph (instrumental), Kim Yoo-jin, James Last, Trini Lopez, Lisa Ono, Joey McIntyre, The Bob Crewe Generation, Johnny Mathis, Brad Mehldau, The Three Tenors, Jane Monheit, Morrissey, Willie Nelson, Patsy Ann Noble, Eddi Reader, Jim Reeves, John Barrowman, John R. Barratt, R.E.M., Katie Melua, Andrea Ross, Eartha Kitt,Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, The Killers, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand for The Movie Album (2003), Sarah Vaughan, Nan Vernon, Kid Koala, Westlife, Victoria Williams, The Divine Comedy, Tata Young, Tommy Emmanuel (2010),Helmut Lotti, Chiara Civello, Christine Collister, Diana Panton, Oscar Peterson (solo piano), Hirai Ken, Rumer, Kazumasa Oda from his 1988 album "Between the Word and the Heart", Khalil Fong, Royce Campbell, and Susanne Sundfør.
Mercer himself recorded the song in 1974 for his album My Huckleberry Friend.
On October 4, 2006, Canadian turntablist Kid Koala (Eric San) reinterpreted the song at Picnic Electronik in Montreal. Dedicated to his parents, Kid Koala's version features an extended violin solo he performs live by playing notes from the song's instrumental section at different pitches on four turntables.