Henry Mancini

Active - 1952 - 2014  |   Born - Apr 16, 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio, United States  |   Died - Jun 14, 1994   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance, Crime, Western

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American composer Henry Mancini was introduced to music by his Italian immigrant father, who tutored young Mancini on piano and flute. After World War II service, Mancini attended Carnegie Tech and Juilliard, played piano with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and ultimately became a staff composer at Universal, writing snatches of music for everything from the studio's newsreels to the Abbott and Costello comedies. In 1954, he was given the opportunity to arrange the music for a film that might well have qualified as a labor of love: The Glenn Miller Story. The Academy Award nomination he received for this effort elevated Mancini's industry status, as did his long association with producer/director Blake Edwards.

When Mancini wrote the jazzy theme music for Edwards' TV series Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky, Mancini was so proud and protective of his work that he had a clause in his contract prohibiting the networks from running spoken "plugs" for upcoming programs over the closing-credit music. Mancini went on to win Oscars for his contributions to the Blake Edwards-directed films Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), for which he wrote "Moon River"; Days of Wine and Roses (1962); and Victor/Victoria (1982). He also composed the theme to the popular television series Newhart (1982-90). The composer managed to put 20 Grammies on his shelf before his death in 1994. Though arguably the best-known film composer of his time, Henry Mancini was still modest enough in 1989 to title his autobiography Did They Mention the Music?

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  • Introduced to music at age 8 by his father, who played the flute.
  • Became a fan of big band and jazz as a teenager.
  • While a teenager, sent his arrangements to Benny Goodman, who wrote back and encouraged him to pursue a music career.
  • Drafted into the Air Force in 1943, short-circuiting his studies at the famed Juilliard School of Music.
  • Following the war, was hired as a pianist-arranger for the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
  • The first film he scored was Abbott and Costello's Lost in Alaska.
  • Wrote the memorable theme for the TV show Peter Gunn.
  • Composed such classic tunes as "Moon River," "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Charade," and scored such films as Breakfast at Tiffany'sThe Pink Panther, Victor/Victoria and 10.
  • His classic "Moon River," which features lyrics by Johnny Mercer, has been covered more than a thousand times. 
  • His score for Alfred Hitchock's 1972 film Frenzy was rejected by the director as unsuitable.
  • Wrote Late Night With David Letterman's "Viewer Mail Theme."
  • Established scholarships and fellowships at Juilliard School of Music, UCLA, USC and the American Federation of Music's Congress of Strings.