Born April 16, 1924, in Cleveland, OH; died June 14, 1994, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Quinto and Anna Mancini; married Virginia O'Connor, 1947; children: Christopher, Monica, Felice; three grandchildren. Education: Carnegie Institute of Technology School of Music, Pittsburgh, PA; Juilliard School of Music, New York, NY. Military/Wartime Service: U.S. Army Air Corps and Infantry, 1943~45. Memberships: U.S. Army Air Corps and Infantry, 1943~45.
Henry Mancini composed some of the most popular songs ever to be showcased in film, among them "Moon River," "Days of Wine and Roses," and his theme for the Pink Panther movies. His music was heard in nearly 250 films during his long career and was nominated for 70 Grammy Awards, winning 20. He also recorded 85 record albums, whose combined sales topped 30 million copies.
Richard Severo of the New York Times called Mancini "a pioneer in a new approach to film scores," adding that his music "moved away from the heavy symphonic treatments that had been produced by composers like Alfred Newman, Max Steiner and Milos Rozsa and instead exploited jazz motifs, using smaller ensembles." Known for his use of unorthodox instrumentation and his "cool jazz" sound, Mancini employed everything from bass flutes and calliopes to untuned pianos and African instruments in order to achieve innovative musical effects. His versatility enabled him to create appropriate scores for films ranging from Orson Welles' ominous Touch of Evil in 1958 to Blake Edwards' sophisticated comedy Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961. "He [Mancini] is able to move from a light, popular idiom to a heavier, dramatic style to accommodate the demands of a particular film," noted The New Grove Dictionary of American Music.
A sickly child, Mancini was afflicted by a number of childhood diseases, including rheumatic fever when he was a young teenager. Music became an important focus for him at an early age while he was growing up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, largely because his father played with a local Sons of Italy band and also played flute at home. He began playing the piccolo at age eight, then took up the piano four years later. Although Mancini was more interested in sports than music, his father was adamant that he practice regularly. His fascination with film music was sparked after he heard Rudolph Kopp's majestic score for The Crusades, which he went to see with his father in the mid 1930s. By age 12 Mancini was spending a lot of time listening to big bands in Pittsburgh's movie theaters, and it was around then that he decided to abandon plans for a teaching career and pursue one as a film composer.
Mancini's musical talent was confirmed by his becoming first flutist in the Pennsylvania All-State Band in 1937 at the age of 13. His growing reputation resulted in him playing in the Aliquippa High School Band before he had even entered the school. While initially showing an interest in classical music in high school, he then fell in love with jazz, and was especially fond of Glenn Miller's music. He began playing in local dance bands and memorized all of Miller's arrangements. Mancini learned a great deal about arranging from Max Adkins, the conductor of the Stanley Theater house orchestra in Pittsburgh. Adkins eventually had Mancini make arrangements for his own band. "Max Adkins was to be the most important influence of my life," wrote Mancini in Did They Mention the Music?, his autobiography.
Before long Mancini was sending his own arrangements to Benny Goodman, who reacted favorably to them and gave the young musician more encouragement. After high school he continued his musical education at the Music School of Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. In 1942 he moved on to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. While serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps and Infantry during World War II, Mancini met musicians who played in Glenn Miller's Army Air Corps Band. These connections helped him after the war to become part of the Glenn Miller band, which was then led by Tex Beneke. Around this time Mancini was studying music with the composers Mario Catelnuovo-Tedesco, Ernst Krenek, and Alfred Sendry.
By the late 1940s Mancini was composing music for shows such as "The F.B.I. in Peace and War" on radio. He also wrote arrangements for the Skylarks, a group that formerly had sung for Harry James' band. Before long he was putting together arrangements for film studios, which led him to sign a contract with the Universal- International studio in 1952. That year he made his debut as a film composer with the score for Abbott and Costello's Lost in Alaska. For a while Mancini's composing efforts were relegated to low- budget science-fiction thrillers such as Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space. He also scored the early rock musical, Rock, Pretty Baby. In 1954 he raised his profile as composer significantly with his Oscar-nominated score for The Glenn Miller Story . John Beaufort wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that the songs adapted by Mancini in that film were "as admirably played as they are generous."
A major boost to Mancini's reputation occurred in 1958 after his contract at Universal expired, when he happened to run into Blake Edwards while heading for the barbershop at the Universal lot. During the meeting Edwards asked Mancini to score a new television mystery series he was producing. It was the beginning of a long and successful relationship between the two men, spanning over 30 years and more than 25 films. The result of their first meeting was Mancini's hard-hitting yet restrained jazz theme for Peter Gunn, which earned him two Grammy awards, sold over a million copies, and ushered in a new style for television themes. Mancini received much fan mail, and Blake Edwards gave the theme a lot of credit for the success of the series, according to Richard Severo in the New York Times. "It was the score I wrote for the Peter Gunn TV series that was a big break for me," he told the New York Sunday News in 1964. "That use of the jazz idiom, applied dramatically to the story, put music on everybody's mind as far as TV is concerned."
Mancini followed up his Peter Gunn success with a popular theme in 1959 for Mr. Lucky, another Edwards private-eye series. This theme featured the lush sounds of strings and organ, and earned him two more Grammy Awards for Best Arrangement and Best Performance by an Orchestra. From that point he ventured back to the big screen and had major breakthroughs with scores for such films as Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961, Days of Wine and Roses and Charade in 1963, and The Pink Panther in 1964. He also scored a trio of films directed by Stanley Donen in the 1960s: Charade, Arabesque, and Two for the Road. His peak may have been Breakfast at Tiffany's, which won him five Grammy awards in its recorded version. Featured in the score was the legendary "Moon River," which was especially written for the limited vocal range of Audrey Hepburn, who sang it in the film. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music said that "Moon River," which made it to number eleven on the pop charts and won an Academy Award, was "surely one of the best-loved songs of the decade."
In 1970 Mancini wrote Beaver Valley '37 Suite, a piece that offered his impressions of the area where he grew up in Pennsylvania. As musical tastes veered away from the middle-of-the-road songs that were a Mancini specialty in the 1970s, he still managed to stay busy scoring films. He also made numerous appearances as a conductor and appeared on television specials. He joined forces with Blake Edwards in 1982 with his score for Victor/Victoria, which earned Mancini a fourth Oscar, this time for Best Original Song Score. He ventured back to television when he scored the music for the much-publicized miniseries, The Thorn Birds, in 1983.
Even during the height of his fame, Mancini was known for not taking his achievements for granted. "I have never trusted this thing called success; I have always been skeptical about it," he wrote in his autobiography. For many years after striking it rich he still composed on a rented piano. During his career he also took up the cause of aspiring musicians by setting up scholarships for music students at Juilliard, UCLA, and the University of Southern California. He was also very active in SHARE, an organization that helps the mentally retarded.
Mancini died on June 14, 1994, of complications from pancreatic cancer in Beverly Hills, California. By that time he had written 25 new songs for the Broadway production of Victor/Victoria that was to open that fall.
by Ed Decker
Henry Mancini's Career
Learned to play flute and piano as child; became first flutist in Pennsylvania All-State Band, 1937; arranged for Max Adkins, late 1930s; played piano and arranged for Glenn Miller's band, late 1940s; studied with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ernst Krenek, and Alfred Sendry; scored music for radio shows, late 1940s; joined Universal-International, 1952; began long partnership with Blake Edwards and scored music for Peter Gunn mystery series, 1958; wrote concert suite Beaver Valley, '37, 1978; recorded 85 LPS, and won 20 Grammy Awards and four Academy Awards during career.
Henry Mancini's Awards
Grammy Awards: Album of the Year (The Music from Peter Gunn), 1958; Best Arrangement ("Mr. Lucky"), 1960; Record of the Year ("Moon River"), 1961; Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Score from a Motion Picture or Television Show (Breakfast at Tiffany's) 1961; Record of the Year ("Days of Wine and Roses"), 1963; Best Instrumental Composition (Other Than Jazz) ("The Pink Panther Theme"), 1964; Academy Awards: Best Song ("Moon River"), 1961; Best Song ("Days of Wine and Roses"), 1962; Best Original Song Score (Victor/Victoria), 1982; Golden Globe Award, Best Original Song for a Motion Picture ("Whistling Away the Dark"), 1971; Golden Soundtrack Award, ASCAP, 1988; Golden Score Award, American Society of Music Arrangers, 1989.
- Sounds and Scores: A Practical Guide to Professional Orchestration, Northridge Music Corporation, 1962.
- Did They Mention the Music?, (with Gene Lees), Contemporary Books, 1989.
- "Moon River," 1961.
- "Days of Wine and Roses," 1963.
- "Charade," 1963.
- "Dear Heart," 1964.
- Selected film scores Touch of Evil, 1958.
- Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961 Days of Wine and Roses, 1963.
- Charade, 1964.
- The Pink Panther, 1964.
- Two for the Road, 1967.
- Darling Lili, 1970.
- Silver Streak, 1976.
- Victor/Victoria, 1982 Selected television scores Peter Gunn, 1958.
- Mr. Lucky, 1959.
- The Thorn Birds, 1983.
- Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989, p. 759.
- Gammond, Peer, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music, Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 367~368.
- Hitchcock, H. Wiley, and Stanley Sadie, editors, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Volume 3, Macmillan, 1986, p. 166.
- Katz, Ephraim, The Film Encyclopedia, Harper & Row, 1979, p. 769.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 4, Guinness Publishing, 1995, pp. 2685~2686.
- Mancini, Henry, with Gene Lees, Did They Mention the Music?, Contemporary Books, 1989.
- Periodicals Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 1954.
- New York Sunday News, April 5, 1964.
- New York Times, June 15, 1994, p. D21.