10 Essential Henry Mancini Recordings: From "Moon River" To The 'Pink (2024)

A composer, arranger, conductor and pianist of tireless discipline, Mancini won a staggering 20 GRAMMY Awards and was nominated 72 times. All of his wins — including the first-ever golden gramophone for Album Of The Year at the inaugural 1951 GRAMMYs — will be on display at the GRAMMY Museum to honor his centennial birthday, April 16.

To mark what would be his centennial birthday, Mancini's children will travel to Abruzzo, Italy — where Mancini’s parents migrated from. And on June 23, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra will present a program of his music with a gallery of guest stars including singer Monica Mancini, the maestro’s daughter.

Although Mancini died in 1994 at age 70, his compositions remain timeless and ever-relevant. Read on for 10 essential Henry Mancini compositions to cherish and rediscover.

"Peter Gunn" (1958)

In 1958, Mancini was looking for work and used his old Universal studio pass to enter the lot and visit the barber shop. It was outside the store that he met writer/director Blake Edwards and got the chance to write the music for a new television show about private detective Peter Gunn.

Seeped in West Coast Jazz, Mancini’s main theme sounds brash and exciting to this day – its propulsive beat and wailing brass section evoking an aura of cool suspense. The "Peter Gunn" assignment cemented his reputation as a cutting-edge composer, and the accompanying album (The Music From Peter Gunn) won GRAMMYs in the Album Of The Year and Best Arrangement categories.

"Mr. Lucky" (1959)

Half of the "Peter Gunn" fan mail was addressed to Mancini. As a result, CBS offered Blake Edwards a second television show, as long as the composer was part of the package. Edwards created "Mr. Lucky," a stylish series about the owner of a floating casino off the California coast.

1959 was an exhausting year for Mancini, as he was scoring two shows at the same time on a weekly basis. Still, his music flowed with elegance and ease. The "Mr. Lucky" ambiance allowed him to explore Latin rhythms, and the strings on his wonderful main theme shimmer with a hint of yearning. It won GRAMMY Awards in 1960 for Best Arrangement and Best Performance by an Orchestra.

"Lujon" (1961)

As part of his contract with RCA Victor, Mancini was committed to recording a number of albums featuring original compositions in the same velvety jazz-pop idiom from his television work. "Lujon" is the standout track from Mr. Lucky Goes Latin, a collection of Latin-themed miniatures that luxuriate in a mood of plush languor.

Inspired by the complex harmonics of French composer Maurice Ravel, "Lujon" steers safely away from lounge exotica thanks to the refined qualities of the melody and arrangement.

"Moon River" (1961)

Performed on a harmonica, the main melody of "Moon River" is nostalgic to the bone, but also life affirming. A majestic string section makes the music swoon, like gliding on air. And the harmonies in the vocal chorus add gravitas — a touch of humanity.

It took Mancini half an hour to write "Moon River," but the Breakfast at Tiffany’s anthem made him a global superstar. Among the many artists who covered the song, pop crooner Andy Williams turned it into his personal anthem. Mancini won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and GRAMMY Awards for Record Of The Year, Song Record Of The Year and Best Arrangement. The album soundtrack earned two additional gramophones.

Theme from Hatari! (1962)

After two failed attempts with different composers, legendary director Howard Hawks invited Mancini to write the score for Hatari! — the wildly episodic but oddly endearing safari film he had shot in Tanganyika with John Wayne. Mancini jumped at the opportunity, and Hawks gave him a few boxes from the trip that contained African percussive instruments, a thumb piano and a tape of Masai tribal chants. Two chords from that chant, together with a slightly detuned upright piano formed the basis for the movie’s main theme.

Mancini’s sparse arrangement and melancholy melody conspired to create one of the most gorgeous themes in the history of film.

"Days of Wine and Roses" (1962)

Throughout the decades, Mancini provided musical accompaniment to Blake Edwards’ filmography, which switched from slapstick comedy to stark melodrama. There is a perverse beauty to the theme of Days of Wine and Roses — a movie about a couple of lifelong alcoholics — as the lush choral arrangement seems to glorify the innocence of better times.

It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song — Mancini’s second Oscar in a row — and three GRAMMYs: Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Background Arrangement

"The Pink Panther Theme" (1963)

Directed by Edwards and starring Peter Sellers as part of an ensemble cast, the original Pink Panther was a frothy caper comedy that had none of the manic touches of comedic genius that Sellers would exhibit in subsequent entries of the franchise. It was Mancini’s ineffable main theme that carried the movie through.

Jazzy and mischievous, Mancini wrote the melody with the light-as-a-feather playing of tenor saxophonist Plas Johnson in mind. It won GRAMMYs in three categories: Best Instrumental Arrangement, Best Instrumental Compositions (Other Than Jazz), and Best Instrumental Performance – Non-Jazz.

Charade (1963)

Mancini’s gift for cosmopolitan tunes and jazzy arrangements found the perfect vehicle in the score for Stanley Donen’s Charade — a droll Hitchco*ckian thriller shot in Paris and starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

The main theme is a waltz in A minor, and opens with pulsating percussion. When the central melody appears, it evokes a melancholy reflection and a certain thirst for the kind of globetrotting adventure that the film delivers in spades. It was Johnny Mercer’s favorite Mancini melody, and he wrote exquisite lyrics for it.

The best version probably belongs to jazz singer Johnny Hartman, who released it as the opening track of his 1964 album I Just Dropped By To Say Hello.

Two For The Road (1967)

Friends and family remember Mancini as a humble craftsman who ignored the trappings of fame and focused on the discipline of work. In 1967, after Audrey Hepburn cabled to ask him about writing the music for the Stanley Donen film Two For The Road, Mancini agreed, but was taken aback when the director rejected his initial theme. Leaving his ego aside, he returned to the drawing board and delivered a lovely new melody – and a spiraling piano pattern seeped in old fashioned tenderness.

"Theme from The Molly Maguires" (1970)

Even though Mancini enjoyed most accolades during the ‘60s, his protean level of inspiration never wavered. In 1970, he was brought in to rescue the soundtrack of Martin Ritt’s gritty secret societies drama The Molly Maguires, about Irish-American miners rebelling against their mistreatment in 19th century Pennsylvania.

The main theme makes time stand still: a sparse arrangement that begins with a solitary harp, until a recorder ushers in a haunting, Irish-inspired melody. The score reflected a more restrained Mancini, but was still intensely emotional.

ARTICLE: Grammy.com

10 Essential Henry Mancini Recordings: From "Moon River" To The 'Pink (2024)

FAQs

What is the meaning of the song Moon River? ›

It's a metaphor of yearning for the unpredictable eddies of an adventurous life, to be swept along by the currents to somewhere new: “Wherever you're going, I'm going your way.” Of the more than 500 covers of “Moon River”, crooner Andy Williams took the song closest to heart.

Who sang the original version of Moon River? ›

"Moon River" is a song composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Was Moon River written for breakfast at Tiffany's? ›

When Paramount hired him and Mancini to craft a song for Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mercer adapted his lyrics to Mancini's laconic melody. Mercer discovered that the title "Blue River" was already taken, so he came up with a new one, and "Moon River" was born, according to Portrait of Johnny.

How would you describe the Pink Panther theme? ›

“The Pink Panther Theme” is a jazz infused movie theme that has engraved itself into pop culture. Our arrangement makes use of percussive effects, syncopated rhythm hits, and dynamics to create an accurate tribute to the original recording.

Is Moon River a wedding song? ›

“Moon River” by JJ Heller

As far as songs to walk down the aisle to, this is a perfect choice for the ultimate dreamer. Feeling both nostalgic and romantic, the gentle acoustic melody and JJ Heller's tender vocals will bring you and your guests to tears as you walk down the aisle towards your beloved.

How old was Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's? ›

Audrey Hepburn was 31 years old when playing Holly. Holly Golightly wears the same dresses all the way through the movie, simply changing the accessories to give each outfit a different look. Her black shift dress features through the movie at least four times.

What does "huckleberry friend" mean? ›

A Huckleberry means being the right person for the job, the ideal partner for any given activity. Often, the phrase "I'm your huckleberry," meant 'I'll be your dance partner" or "I'll play with you". See, for instance the movie Tombstone, where Doc Holliday... 2.

Did Frank Sinatra sing Moon River? ›

Sinatra Sings Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River, and Other Academy Award Winners (or simply Academy Award Winners) is a 1964 album by Frank Sinatra, focusing on songs that won the Academy Award for Best Song.

Who made Moon River popular? ›

Moon River was made famous by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, in which she played the part of New York socialite Holly Golightly. But Hepburn was not a trained singer and initially Paramount film-makers thought they would need to dub somebody else's voice.

Did Truman Capote like Audrey Hepburn? ›

You may be mixing up “Tiffany's” with “Charade” which did star both Grant and Hepburn. Did Truman Capote hate Marilyn Monroe and love Audrey Hepburn? No, he barely knew either of them. He was unhappy with Audrey being cast as Holly Golightly.

Who played the saxophone on The Pink Panther Theme? ›

Plas John Johnson Jr.

(born July 21, 1931) is an American soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist, probably most widely known as the tenor saxophone soloist on Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther Theme". He also performs on alto and baritone sax as well as various flutes and clarinets.

What does the term Pink Panther mean? ›

The Pink Panther is the name of a valuable diamond. There were several later films about Clouseau and the Panther. There was also a series of television Pink Panther cartoon films in which the main character is a pink panther (= large member of the cat family).

What are the Pink Panthers known for? ›

The Pink Panthers are the world's most notorious jewel thieves, a shadowy Serbian crime syndicate who specialize in elaborate smash-and-grab heists that take only minutes, but net millions.

What is Moon River about? ›

The Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle is a battery electric vehicle designed to operate in the low-gravity vacuum of the Moon and to be capable of traversing the lunar surface, allowing the Apollo astronauts to extend the range of their surface extravehicular activities.

What condition does river have into the moon? ›

The game describes her as having a pervasive developmental disorder, heavily implied to be a form of autism formerly known as Asperger's syndrome.

What is meant by huckleberry friend? ›

A Huckleberry means being the right person for the job, the ideal partner for any given activity. Often, the phrase "I'm your huckleberry," meant 'I'll be your dance partner" or "I'll play with you". See, for instance the movie Tombstone, where Doc Holliday... 2.

What is the story behind song down by the river? ›

“Down the River” is Knight's most well known song, inspired by the time he spent by the river as a kid, fishing and boating with his dad and brother. While the story isn't true, the song remains haunting in its' cadence and melody. The song perfectly captures the mysterious world of Chris Knight.

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