Oscar Songs: Moon River (1961)–Originally Sung by Audrey Hepburn; Impactful Song

“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 the Best Original Song Oscar.

The song also won the 1962 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

The song has been recorded by many other artists. It became the theme song for Andy Williams, who first recorded it in 1962 (and performed it at the Academy Awards ceremony that year).

He sang the first eight bars of the song at the beginning of each episode of his eponymous television show and named his production company and venue in Branson, Missouri, after it; his autobiography is called “Moon River” and Me. Williams’ version was never released as a single, but it charted as an LP track that he recorded for Columbia on a hit album of 1962, Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes.

In 2022, Williams’ rendition of the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress.

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 US 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.

Impact, Meaning, Intertextuality:

Bad Education (2004), directed by Almodovar

Shall We Dance (2004) US Film

Elizabethtown (2005), directed by Cameron Crowe

In a funeral scene, Susan Sarandon (as Hollie) dances a soft-show number to the tune of “Moon River.”