“ “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’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 [sic] to wanderlust. Or a romantic song in which the romantic partner is the idea of romance.”
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 sing in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. 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 he connected them with a carefree childhood and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. 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 the song, accompanying herself on the guitar while sitting 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 more colorful language to make the same point.
An album version was recorded by Mancini and his orchestra and chorus (without Hepburn’s vocal) on December 8, 1960.”