Henry Mancini - Biography

By J Poet


Henry Mancini was a musician’s musician, well versed in pop, jazz, and classical music. He made hundreds of album as a bandleader, but is best known for his work as a composer of soundtrack music for television and movies. Unlike many composers of background music, Mancini’s compositions stood on their own as quality compositions, due to his use of jazz voicings and innate melodic sense. His first major success was the jazzy music he composed for Peter Gunn and early TV detective series. Music from Peter Gunn (1959 RCA) won him his first two Grammys - Album of the Year and Best Musical Arrangement for the “Peter Gunn Theme.” He went on to win 19 more Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995, the year after he died. Mancini’s music was used in more than 200 films during his career. He was nominated for 70 Grammy Awards and won 20 and nominated for 18 Oscars and won four. He recorded 85 albums as a leader and sold more than 30 million records. In 2004, The USPS issued a Mancini postage stamp.


Mancini was born Enrico Nicola Mancini in the Italian neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio in 1924, but in West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. His father made Mancini take flute lessons at eight and at 12 he began piano training. His father played with an amateur band Sons of Italy, which Mancini also joined. A sickly boy afflicted with rheumatic fever, he wanted to be a teacher until he saw a film called The Crusades. He’d already spent a lot of time at big band shows, and decided to become a soundtrack composer.


He played in local dance bands and memorized all Glenn Miller’s arrangements. He met Max Adkins, the conductor of the Stanley Theater house orchestra in Pittsburgh, who asked him to write arrangements for his band. While he was still in high school, was sent some arrangements to Benny Goodman, who encouraged Mancini to continue writing. He studied music at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and attended Juilliard for post-grad studies, but was drafted into the Army in 1942.


In the Army, Mancini met musicians from Glenn Miller’s Army Air Corps Band. When Tex Beneke reformed the Miller band after Miller’s death, Beneke hired him as pianist and arranger. Mancini left he band to write music for radio programs including The F.B.I. in Peace and War and wrote arrangements for other film music composers. Universal International signed him as a composer in 1952. He wrote scores for Abbott and Costello’s Lost in Alaska, Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil before his first major hit, as composer and arranger for The Glenn Miller Story. He got an Academy Award Nomination for his efforts.


When Mancini met Blake Edwards at Universal, Edwards asked him if he could write a sophisticated jazzy score of his new detective series Peter Gunn. Mancini assembled an orchestra of LA’s finest jazz players for the score and the show became a smash, due in part to Mancini’s music. Music from Peter Gunn (1959 RCA) went gold and won Mancini his first two Grammys - Album of the Year and Best Musical Arrangement for the “Peter Gunn Theme.” More Music from Peter Gunn (1959 RCA) also went gold. Mr. Lucky (1960 RCA) another Edwards private-eye series, had a soundtrack dominated by the big Hammond B3. The album was a hit and won Grammys Awards for Best Arrangement and Best Performance by an Orchestra.


Mancini had one of his most successful years in 1961 when the music he composed for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960 RCA) won five Grammys - Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best arrangement for the hit single “Moon River,” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Score from a Motion Picture or Television Show and Best Performance for an Orchestra (non-dancing). “Moon River” also took home an Oscar for Best Song. “Moon River” was an instant standard, and has been covered by more than 1,000 other artists. In 1962, Mancini took home four more Grammys. “Baby Elephant Walk,” the hit single from the soundtrack of the John Wayne film Hatari (1962 RCA) won for Best Arrangement and the soundtrack to Days of Wine and Roses (1962 Warner) won Record of the Year and Song of the Year for the hit single “Days of Wine and Roses” while the album won for Best Background Music. “Days of Wine and Roses” also took home an Oscar for Best Original Song from a Motion Picture.


Charade (1963 RCA) the soundtrack for the Cary Grant/ Audrey Hepburn thriller is one of Mancini’s most diverse with classical, jazz, bossa nova, and Gypsy music while The Pink Panther (1963 RCA) took home another three Grammys – Best Composition other than Jazz, Best Instrumental Performance other than Jazz and Best Arrangement for single of “The Pink Panther Theme.”


In addition to his film work, Mancini made original instrumental albums and appeared around the country conducting symphony orchestras in programs of his own works. His 60s albums include Dear Heart and Other Songs about Love (1965 RCA), The Latin Sound of Henry Mancini (1965 RCA), the soundtrack for Arabesque (1966 RCA), Mancini '67 (1967 RCA), The Big Band Sound of Henry Mancini (1968 RCA), Big Latin Band of Henry Mancini (1968 RCA), Debut! Henry Mancini Conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra Pops (1969 RCA) and work on the soundtrack for Romeo and Juliet (1969 Capital) which won a Best Arrangement Grammy for “The Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.” In the 60s Mancini set up scholarship funds for music students at Juilliard, UCLA, and the University of Southern California.


Mancini kicked off he 70s with another two Grammys for his work on the Costa Gavras film Z. “Theme from Z” won Best Arrangement and his album Theme music from Z & Other Film Music (1970 RCA) won Best Instrumental Performance. As easy listening lost the battle to rock, Mancini’s albums were no longer best sellers, but they continued to show off his penchant for musical excellence and eclectic arrangements. Country hits got the Mancini touch on Mancini Country (1970 RCA), he collaborated with Doc Severinsen of Carson’s Tonight Show band on Brass on Ivory (1972 RCA), and cut The Mancini Generation (1972 RCA), The Big Band Sound of Henry Mancini (1973 RCA), Hangin’ Out with Henry Mancini (1974 RCA), The Return of the Pink Panther (soundtrack) (1975 RCA), Henry Mancini Conducts the London Symphony Orchestra In a Concert of Film Music (1976 RCA), Mancini’s Angels (1977 RCA), and the soundtrack to the Dudley Moore/Bo Derek film 10 ( 1979 Warner).


Mancini continued working until his death in 1994 composing movies for films, recording albums and appearing as a guest conductor with symphonies around the world. His latter day albums include Trail of the Pink Panther (soundtrack) (1982 Capitol), the soundtrack for the Julie Andrews/Robert Preston musical Victor/Victoria (1982 GNP Crescendo), which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score, Cinema Italiano: Music of Ennio Morricone & Nino Rota (1990 RCA), Mancini in Surround: Mostly Monsters, Murders & Mysteries (1990 RCA), and Top Hat: Music from the Films of Astaire & Rogers (1992 RCA), the last album he made before his death.


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