Moon River, the song that everyone and their mommas have covered, popped back up on mainstream culture radar in 2018 with Frank Ocean's cover of it. While some young folk mistook it as an original song of his, I was moved by hearing one of my childhood favorites sung by one of my favorite artists. I remember watching Audrey Hepburn sing the Moon River in the iconic 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The movie not only made the LBD popular but memorialized a song that would be covered by major artists in every decade since.
Composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Moon River was written for the movie and more importantly for Audrey Hepburn. The eerie lyrics were inspired by the full moon over a river near Mercer’s childhood home in Savannah, Georgia (which makes sense because Savannah is creepy as fuck). What makes this 1961 Oscar-winning (for best original song) song so easy to cover is its simplicity because Hepburn was not a singer Mancini took that in mind not giving the song complicated riffs or dramatic ranges.
Moon River has been covered by so many people: Louis Armstrong, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, even Aretha Franklin who put a very personal touch to it. Spotify listed Frank’s Moon River as one of my most played songs (probably because I would put it on repeat and play it through the night as I slept). But his song isn't my number 1 version — below are my top 3 covers of the song and what makes them special:
The Top 3
3. Frank Ocean
The ocean meets the river blending effortlessly in Frank's 2018 cover. He put his own style to it while keeping the original ethos of the song. He talks you through it with a lightly musical take, giving it a fresh modern feel without overdoing it.
2. Lena Horne
Lena's rendition balances her signature sound and gives the song a more whimsical feeling. The slowed tempo and orchestral break, adds another level of romance to the song. Making the original sorrowful ending more sweeter.
1. Audrey Hepburn
I wasn’t going to consider her in the top 3 because it wouldn’t be fair but after listening to all the covers I kept coming back to her. This song was written for her and brought to life by Holly, her character in the movie. Maybe its the context of which she sings it but Moon River and Holly are one in the same — so beautiful but painful. Hepburn wasn't singing the song for someone but themselves and that emotion comes through.
It’s probably the fact I use to play the cello so I love anything that involves them, but this piece by 2Cellos lets you experience an instrumental version of the song. Allowing you to bask in the genius of the composition. It still holds it emotion but pushes your mind to wander and explore your own imagination of the song without the guard rails of the lyrics.
The Honey Trees
The Honey Trees, made up of the duo Becky Filip and Jacob Wick, in 2011 released a cover of Moon River. This band makes it their own but still upholds what makes Moon River Moon River. The single acoustic guitar and the breathy voice of the Becky grounded by Jacobs subtle chime ins make you feel as if you are laying along the Savannah river the lyrics were inspired by.