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Feinstein's Collection: Moon River Demo

Moon River – music by Henry Mancini, lyric by Johnny Mercer, 1961

From the film Breakfast at Tiffany's; 1961 Academy Award for Best Original Song; 1962 Grammy Award for Record of the Year.


Michael Feinstein writes:

This is the original demo recording of “Moon River” sung by Mercer with Mancini at the piano.

I was told about the demo by the former recording engineer at Electro Vox studios, where the demo was made. I then asked Ginny Mancini (Henry’s widow) if she had it and she said "no". I then asked her assistant to look for it and she said that she had already cataloged all the recordings and it wasn't there. Then six months later she called me back to say she had found it on a small tape reel in a box with 8mm family home movies and had it transferred.

According to Ginny Mancini, “Henry wrote ‘Moon River’ on assignment. He was asked who he would like to write the lyric, and Johnny Mercer was his favorite lyricist. And Johnny agreed, and it was kind of a resurgence of Johnny’s career. Hollywood musicals weren’t being made anymore so Johnny’s phone wasn’t ringing. And when Henry called he said “I’m there.” That’s the way it worked, and in those days everybody wanted a title song, but that doesn’t happen so much today.  And Henry had to write something that was comfortable for Audrey Hepburn to sing, within her range; he had heard her sing ‘How Long Has This Been Going On’ in (the film) Funny Face, and so he took that range and found Moon River to suit her.”

The song was originally called "Blue River" but then Mercer realized there was an earlier song by his composer friend Joseph Meyer titled "Blue River" (lyric by Alfred Bryan) so he changed it to "Moon.” But the "huckleberry" line remained (Mercer changed all the other blue references) which people now associate with Huckleberry Finn and trips down the Mississippi and a mythic American imagery that Mercer never intended but perhaps intuited instinctively.


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