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“Moon River” – Still a Winner After all These Years?

February 24, 2012

With this year’s Academy Awards ceremony taking place this weekend I caught Andrew Collins’ excellent “Oscar Sings” on Radio 4 yesterday morning.  It got me thinking about some of my favourite Oscar-winning movie songs and I thought I’d share one of them with you today, the sublime “Moon River” from the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

"Breakfast at Tiffanys" - poster for the film featuring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly

Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie "Breakfast at Tiffanys"

“Moon River” was written by Henri Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the 34th Academy Awards in 1961.  It was Mancini’s first Oscar and Mercers’s third.  They repeated the feat the following year with “The Days of Wine and Roses” and both writers went on to win a total of four Oscars each.

In the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” the song is sung by Audrey Hepburn‘s character, Holly Golightly, as she sits on the fire escape of her apartment.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the film "Breakfast at Tiffanys" singing "Moon River"

Apparently producers wanted to cut “Moon River” from the film.  Nowadays, of course, it’s impossible to imagine the film without in it.  The song’s yearning, dreamy lyric and plaintive, memorable melody are a vital element of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” enduring appeal.

Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in "Breakfast at Tiffanys" 1961

I love to sing “Moon River” although, being written in 1961, it shouldn’t really be in my act of songs from the 1920s to the 1950s.  However, it sits comfortably in my repertoire as, stylistically I think it belongs to an earlier era.  Perhaps it’s the influence of Johnny Mercer.  He wrote the lyrics to several other, earlier songs that are on my list (“Too Marvelous For Words”, “I’m Old Fashioned“, “Skylark” and “Autumn Leaves“) and “Moon River” marked something of a revival of fortune for him after the rise of rock’n’roll had caused a decline in his career in the late 1950s.  Or perhaps it’s the sheer, brazen romance of the song that makes it sound older than it is.

However you look at it, “Moon River” is still a winner.  It’s a true classic that’s as popular today as it was when audiences first heard it over fifty years ago.  I can’t help but wonder how many of the songs nominated for this year’s Best Original Song Oscar will still be being sung in 2063?

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