"Moon River" is a song composed by Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Henry Mancini (music) in 1961, for whom it won that year's Academy Award for Best Original Song. It is most well-known for being sung in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's by Audrey Hepburn, although it has been covered by many other artists.
It became the theme song for Andy Williams, who first recorded the song in 1961 and performed it at the Academy Awards ceremonies in 1962. He sang the first eight bars of the song at the beginning of his television show; he also named his production company and venue in Branson, Missouri after Moon River. Williams' version was vetoed by Cadence president Archie Bleyer, who believed it had little or no appeal to teenagers. Williams' famous version never charted, except as an LP track, which he recorded for Columbia in a hit album of 1962.
The success of the song 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 music of the time. An inlet near Savannah, Georgia, Johnny Mercer's hometown, was named Moon River in honor of him and this song. The popularity of the song is such that it has been used as a test sample in a study on people's memories of popular songs.
The original version
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 to the movie Breakfast 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 much behind-the-scenes consternation which erupted when a Paramount Pictures executive suggested deleting the song from the film immediately after a very successful San Francisco preview. Hepburn's reaction has been 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 score album to Breakfast at Tiffany's. Instead, an album version recorded by Mancini and his chorus was released as a single and became a #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 entitled Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn.
"Moon River" was released by South African singer Danny Williams, and reached #1 in the UK. Shortly thereafter, Andy Williams recorded the song and made it his theme song. It was a hit for Jerry Butler in 1961, reaching #11 in the Billboard charts. Other artists that have covered the song are The Afghan Whigs, Benny Anderssons Orkester, Paul Anka, Blake, Louis Armstrong, Vince Guaraldi, Beru Revue, Mary Black, Sarah Brightman, Liz Callaway, Perry Como, Ray Conniff, Bobby Darin, Ania Dąbrowska, Dr. John, Dump, Billy Eckstine, The Four Freshmen, Connie Francis, Bill Frisell (instrumental), Emi Fujita, Judy Garland, Karel Gott, Grant Green (instrumental), Patty Griffin, The Innocence Mission (although this version is sometimes incorrectly cited as being performed by Milla Jovovich), Bradley Joseph (instrumental), Kim Yoo-jin, James Last, Joey McIntyre, Johnny Mathis, Brad Mehldau, Jane Monheit, Morrissey, Patsy Ann Noble, Jim Reeves, John Barrowman, R.E.M., Mia Riddle, Andrea Ross, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan, Nan Vernon, Kid Koala, Westlife, Victoria Williams, The Divine Comedy, and Tata Young.
Mercer himself recorded the song in 1974 for his album (appropriately named) My Huckleberry Friend.