This was used as Audrey Hepburn's theme song in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. Hepburn sings the song in the movie, but the version used on the soundtrack was an instrumental by Henry Mancini and his orchestra. This version was released as a single, as was a vocal version by Jerry Butler which also went to #11 in the US near the end of 1961. Hepburn's version was not released until after her death in 1993 when it appeared on the album Music From The Films of Audrey Hepburn.
Mancini wrote this song with lyricist Johnny Mercer. The original title was "Blue River," but Mercer found out another songwriter was using that title.
Moon River is a real river in Savannah, Georgia where Mercer grew up. His home overlooked the river and he had fond memories of the place. At the time, the river was known as The Back River, but was renamed Moon River in honor of the song, and Johnny Mercer's home along the river became known as the Moon River House.
In 1962, Mancini told Disc magazine: "I reckon I'll have made around $100,000 on 'Moon River' within the next two years or so. It took me about 30 minutes to compose. It had to be in keeping with the character of Holly Golightly, the star of Breakfast at Tiffany's, and I had to bear in mind the limitations of Audrey Hepburn's voice. I worked the whole song round a simple guitar basis, although the guitar isn't heard much during the number."
Originally, Mercer wrote this with lyrics that started, "I'm Holly" (after Hepburn's character Holly Golightly), but the words didn't seem right.
The South African singer Danny Williams took this song to #1 in the UK in late 1961. Williams originally refused to sing it, saying that Johnny Mercer's lyrics were nonsensical. But he saw the film and was so moved by it that he relented. Williams died of cancer on 6th December 2005.
The American singer Andy Williams recorded a popular version of this song. He used this as the theme music for his TV variety show, which ran from 1962-1967. Williams owned the Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri.
The line, "My huckleberry friend" is often thought to be a reference to Huckleberry Finn, a character in Mark Twain's book Tom Sawyer
. However, in his autobiography
, Johnny Mercer said it was in reference to a childhood friend of his. He used to pick huckleberries with him down by a lazy river near his home in Georgia.
This won the Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Arrangement, while Breakfast at Tiffany's took the clumsily titled Best Performance By An Orchestra For Other Than Dancing and Best Sound Track Album Or Recording Of Score From Motion Picture Or Television - awards that went to Mancini. He repeated his wins for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1963 with "Days Of Wine And Roses." Mancini won a total of 20 Grammy Awards.
Henry Mancini also wrote the score to Breakfast at Tiffany's, earning him the Oscar for Best Score while "Moon River" took the award for Best Song. Mancini had one Oscar nomination to this point: for writing the score to The Glenn Miller Story.
The year after winning the two awards for Breakfast at Tiffany's, he and Johnny Mercer again won the Best Song Oscar, this time for "Days Of Wine And Roses" from the film of the same name. Mancini's only other Oscar win came in 1982 for his work on Victor/Victoria, which won for Best Adaptation Score. Other movies Mancini wrote for include The Pink Panther and Love Story.