"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. The song also won the 1962 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
The song has been recorded by many other artists. 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. In 2022, Williams' rendition of the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress.
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.
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. 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.
“Moon River” had a rich history before Andy Williams first sang it, but his rendition took the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s theme to a new level. The dreamy song clearly left a strong impression on the artist, as he later named his company, theater, and autobiography after it.
The song impacted the world just as much as it impacted Williams. Although “Moon River” was performed by other phenomenal artists like Audrey Hepburn and Jerry Butler, Williams’ rendition of the song charted exceptionally well despite never being released as a single.
“Moon River” has won a number of awards for its hopeful lyrics and smooth composition, but Andy Williams’ rich tenor voice evidently brought out the very best in the song.
“Moon River” was originally written by composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer for the 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Mancini revealed in an interview that it only took him about 30 minutes to compose the song.
“It had to be in keeping with the character of Holly Golightly, the star character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I had to bear in mind the limitations of Audrey Hepburn’s voice,” he said. “I worked the whole song around a simple guitar basis, although the guitar isn’t heard much during the number.”
Mercer wrote the lyrics about a real river near his house in Savannah, Georgia. His window looked out at the river, and he had many fond memories there. The real river was originally called Back River, but it was officially renamed Moon River in honor of the song. Mercer’s home also became known as the Moon River House.
When the song was performed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it became an instant hit. Hepburn’s performance of “Moon River” won Best Arrangement, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year at the 1962 Grammys, as well as the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Andy Williams performed “Moon River” for the first time at the same Academy Awards ceremony.
The lyrics of “Moon River” are simple, but powerful. The song runs for a brief two minutes and 24 seconds, and there are only three verses with no true chorus.
In the song, the river acts as a metaphor for a lover. It is described as both a dream maker and a heartbreaker in the same line, emphasizing both the delightful and disastrous outcomes of relationships. Even knowing that it could go badly, the narrator is still determined to follow their heart.
Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style someday
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way
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