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Mancini, Henry Nicola

MANCINI, Henry Nicola

(b. 16 April 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio; d. 14 June 1994 in Los Angeles, California), composer, conductor, and arranger who brought new styles to film and television music; successful recording artist and concert performer; and winner of numerous awards for his compositions during the 1960s.

Born Enrico Nicola Mancini, his first name anglicized to Henry, Mancini was the son of Italian immigrants Quinto Mancini, a steelworker, and Anna Pece, a homemaker. He grew up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, where his father, an amateur musician, taught him to play the piccolo and flute. By his teens Mancini was studying music seriously, and upon graduating from high school he briefly attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, in 1942, although his academic career was cut short by World War II. After serving in the U.S. Army in Europe he joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1946 as a pianist and arranger. There he met Virginia (Ginny) O'Connor, a singer with the band, whom he married on 13 September 1947; they had a son and twin daughters.

Based in Los Angeles, Mancini spent the late 1940s and 1950s studying music at the Westlake School of Music and privately with Ernst Krenek, Dr. Alfred Sendry, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, working his way up as a composer for film studios. In 1958 the director Blake Edwards hired him to write the score for a new television series, Peter Gunn; this inaugurated a long, productive relationship between the two. Mancini's themes mixed in elements of jazz and rock and roll, attracting immediate attention for their contemporary feel, and Ray Anthony had a Top Ten hit with the show's theme in February 1959. Meanwhile, Mancini signed a contract with RCA Victor Records that turned out to be a major coup. While other film and television composers saw their work released on a soundtrack album that prominently displayed the title but not the name of the composer, Mancini's screen work began to appear on albums under his name. The first of these, The Music from Peter Gunn, won the Grammy Award for album of the year in 1958, hit number one in February 1959, and earned a gold record. It was quickly followed by More Music from Peter Gunn, a Top Ten hit.

This was the beginning of a long string of 1960s successes for Mancini. Mr. Lucky, a television series that premiered during the 1959–1960 season, led to the Top Ten Music from Mr. Lucky album, a Top Forty "Mr. Lucky" single, and two more Grammy Awards. Mancini wrote exclusively for film for the rest of the decade. In addition to the albums of his film music, he recorded music written by others. Many of these albums reached the charts, but his own compositions were much more successful. In 1961 Mancini scored Edwards's Breakfast at Tiffany's, and his album of the film's music topped the charts and went gold. "Moon River," its theme song, co-written with lyricist Johnny Mercer, was a Top Ten hit for both Mancini and Jerry Butler (who recorded separate versions of the song). The song became better known as the signature song of Andy Williams, who sang it under the film's credits and at the Academy Awards ceremony, where it won the Oscar for best song. Mancini also won for best score. In addition, "Moon River" won the Grammy Award for song of the year, and Mancini's recording of the song won record of the year in 1961.

In 1962 Mancini reached the Top Ten with his album of music from the film Hatari! and in 1963 he continued his success with his and Mercer's theme song from Edwards's Days of Wine and Roses, which won both the Academy Award for best song and the Grammy for song of the year, while his single recording won the Grammy for record of the year. Mancini did not record an album for Days of Wine and Roses, but Andy Williams did, and it hit number one and went gold.

Mancini focused more on recordings in 1963, reaching the Top Ten with Our Man in Hollywood and Uniquely Mancini. But his and Mercer's theme from Charade was another Oscar nominee, and his Charade album was another Top Ten hit. He scored five films released in 1964, among them Edwards's first two movies in the Pink Panther series (The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark), and his delightful "The Pink Panther Theme" became one of his best-known compositions; his recording of it, a Top Forty hit, won three Grammys, and his Pink Panther album reached the Top Ten and went gold. Another 1964 release was Dear Heart, with a title song, cowritten with lyricists Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, that produced Top Forty hits for Andy Williams and Jack Jones and earned Grammy and Oscar nominations. Mancini's album Dear Heart and Other Songs About Love was another Top Ten entry.

With the ascendance of rock in the wake of the Beatles, Mancini's record sales began to dip in the mid-1960s, but he maintained a busy schedule of scoring, recording, and live performances that resulted in more chart entries and numerous award nominations. In June 1969 he returned to the top of the charts with his million-selling recording of Nino Rota's "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet," from the album A Warm Shade of Ivory, which hit the Top Ten and went gold. Six Hours Past Sunset, released that fall, was his twenty-fifth album to reach the charts in the decade.

Mancini continued to work prolifically for the rest of his life. By the end of the 1960s his film scores were starting to appear on conventional soundtrack albums, while he continued to record an average of three albums a year. In 1970, counting soundtracks, he released eight new albums. That year he won his twentieth Grammy, a total second only to Quincy Jones's among nonclassical recording artists. Mancini won his fourth Academy Award in 1982 for his song score to Victor/Victoria, directed by Edwards and starring Edwards's wife Julie Andrews. In the early 1990s Mancini cut back on his film and television work as he and Edwards prepared a stage adaptation of Victor/Victoria, which was incomplete when Mancini died of pancreatic cancer. The show opened on Broadway in 1995, again starring Andrews, and had a healthy run, the cast album posthumously earning Mancini his seventy-third Grammy nomination.

Mancini's autobiography is Did They Mention the Music? (1989), written with Gene Lees. A good critical appreciation of Mancini as a film composer is in William Darby and Jack Du Bois, American Film Music: Major Composers, Techniques, Trends, 1915–1990 (1990), in which he rates his own chapter and his photo on the cover. An obituary is in the New York Times (1 June 1994).

William Ruhlmann

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