Singing “Moon River” brings back pleasant memories for many listeners. The 1960s hit features an easy-to-sing melody with simple – and beautiful – lyrics. My friends with Alzheimer’s typically recognize this tune even before they hear the words.
People who have Alzheimer’s also enjoy hearing stories attached to songs. This song provides me with the opportunity to mention some well-known names. Even better, I can share personal stories about this song.
My Personal Connection
I learned “Moon River” in the early 1970s. No, I didn’t hear it on the radio. I first heard it on a player piano belonging to my grandparents.
My Grandpa and Grandma Miller spent more than 50 years living in the same house in Bloomington, Illinois. I remember visiting often. And when I visited, I played the player piano. They had one of the old-style pneumatic player pianos. You inserted a roll (see picture above), then supplied the power through foot-operated bellows. It was a bit like pedaling a stationary bike, and you could get quite a workout from playing songs.
My Aunt Judy tried for a while to teach me how to play the piano myself (using my fingers on the keys instead of my feet on the pedals), but I never practiced enough to learn. Instead, I spent time pedaling away at the player piano and, of course, singing.
A large cupboard in the piano room contained hundreds of piano rolls. Over the years, I tried them all. Some, however, were particular favorites. My grandparents eventually sold the house, along with the player piano. But I still have one special keepsake … a well-used “Moon River” piano roll.
I also have another personal connection to the song. In 2001, Sheryl and I took Trish and her husband Jerry to Branson, Missouri, to see Andy Williams perform live. We were there for his Christmas show. But, yes, he still sang “Moon River.”
Andy Williams, Audrey Hepburn, and “Moon River”
Williams never released “Moon River” as a single, yet it became the crooner’s signature song. Actress Audrey Hepburn first sang the song, accompanying herself on the guitar. She did so while playing the iconic character Holly Golightly in the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” (Find a movie clip here.)
Producers invited Williams to perform “Moon River’ during the 1962 Academy Awards. The song won the Oscar for Best Original Song. This helped Williams’ album “Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes” become a huge hit. The LP stayed on the Billboard charts for 176 straight weeks.
Williams sang the first few lines of the song at the beginning of each episode of “The Andy Williams Show,” which ran from 1962 to 1971. In 1992, he opened the Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri. Williams continued to sing and entertain until just months before his death in 2012.
Music and Lyrics
Henry Mancini, one of the top film composers of all time, wrote the music to “Moon River.” He won four Oscars and was nominated for a total of 18 Academy Awards. Mancini composed “The Pink Panther Theme” and scores for eight movies in “The Pink Panther” series.
Popular songwriter Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics, painting pictures from his carefree childhood in Savannah, Georgia. He and his friends lounged by the river and picked huckleberries in the summer. Mercer wrote many other hit songs, including the Songs & Smiles favorite “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.”
Karaoke Version of “Moon River”
Our friends at Karaoke Version offer a beautiful arrangement of this song. Please note: Songs & Smiles is part of the Karaoke Version Affiliate Community. We receive a small commission if you purchase through the link below.
Various file formats are available. For karaoke videos, we suggest switching from the colorful animated background to the black background. The colorful version is fun, and the designs synch to the beat of the music. However, we find the neutral black backgrounds are less distracting for people who have Alzheimer’s.