Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: When Andy Williams died (Sept. 25), the obituaries mostly focused on his version of “Moon River.”

My memories of Andy Williams begin years before “Moon River, ” with “Butterfly,” “Are You Sincere,” “Lonely Street,” and many others.

There were only two hit singles of “Moon River,” by Jerry Butler and Henry Mancini, and it was not issued as a single by Andy until a couple of years later.

I know this because I bought mine circa-1964, backed with “Days of Wine and Roses,” on Columbia's Hall of Fame label (13-33049). I first assumed this, like others in the Hall of Fame series, to be a reissue of earlier singles, but it was not.

Regardless, I was familiar with Andy's “Moon River,” because he sang it at the Academy Awards show, and it is the title track of his “Moon River & Other Great Movie Themes” LP. In later became the theme of the Andy Williams TV Show.

Was this enough to connect him so greatly to a song that never was a hit for him?
—Mike Tiefenbacher, Menomonie, Wis.

DEAR MIKE: For most big-name recording artists with a signature song, it is one of their best-selling singles.

Some familiar examples are: Tony Bennett (“I Left My Heart in San Francisco”); Dean Martin (“Everybody Loves Somebody”); Judy Garland (“Over the Rainbow”); Bobby Darin (“Mack the Knife”); Loretta Lynn (“Coal Miner's Daughter”); Bob Hope (“Thanks for the Memory”); Barbra Streisand (“People”); Glenn Miller (“Moonlight Serenade”); and the Rolling Stones (“Satisfaction”).

For “Moon River,” to become Andy's signature song required some unpredictable events to fall into place, beginning before he even recorded it.

Henry Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (words) teamed to create “Moon River” in 1961 for the film, “Breakfast at Tiffany's.”

In March, 1962, when the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced “Moon River” as a nominee in the Best Music, Original Song category, Andy Williams was picked to sing it live on the Academy Awards show.

The track used for the original single, by Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus, was handed over from Paramount Pictures to RCA in the fall of 1960. Nearly a year later (early Sept. 1961), their record came out (RCA Victor 47-7916).

Meanwhile, Chicago's Vee-Jay label quickly covered the tune with their top artist at the time, Jerry Butler, whose waxing (VJ-390) followed Mancini's by about three weeks.

For five months, Oct. 1961 through Feb. 1962, one or both of these two hit versions were on the charts. Both peaked at No. 11 on Billboard, but not at the same time.

Still, Andy Williams, with no established “Moon River” connection, sang it at the Awards show to a nationally televised (ABC-TV) audience, a performance that changed his life forever — especially since “Moon River” won, and Mancini and Mercer took home Oscars.

That same week, Columbia tied-in with an ad in the trades announcing Andy's next album, due out the last week of April. It reads:

Thanks Mr. Mancini! Thanks Mr. Mercer!
For your great song “Moon River”
Now hear it sung in “Award Winning” style by Andy Williams in his great new album “Moon River & Other Great Movie Themes”

Thanks to the Awards show, Columbia had pre-release sales in excess of 40,000 units.

Andy's first collection of motion picture music hit the charts May 12, remained there for over 14 years, and earned him the first of 17 Gold Records for album sales.

In Sept. 1962, NBC-TV added The Andy Williams Show to their prime-time schedule, and it ran until July 1971.

Though the nights and broadcast times changed, the show's theme did not. It was always “Moon River.”

As for the Columbia's Hall of Fame single, it came out in either late 1963 or early '64.

Last summer, in what would be his last studio recording, Andy joined Deana Martin for a 2011 version of “White Christmas.”

Deana was so pleased with their duet, she even titled the album “White Christmas,” then issued it on vinyl (Big Fish 1007) as well as CD.

IZ ZAT SO? When Andy Williams, and four other stars, took the stage April 9, 1962, at the 34th annual Academy Awards presentation, it marked the first time the nominated songs were sung live. In years past, the tunes were lip-synched to recorded music tracks by the performers.

Sharing the spotlight on this momentous occasion were Ann-Margret (“Bachelor in Paradise”); Gene Pitney (“Town Without Pity”); Johnny Mathis (“Love Theme from El Cid”); and Gogi Grant (“Pocket Full of Miracles”).

Had Henry Mancini not won for “Moon River,” he had a backup nominee in “Bachelor in Paradise,” co-written by he and Mack David.

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