Our ‘Huckleberry Friend’: 6 Highlights From Henry Mancini Centennial Celebration Concert at Hollywood Bowl

Our ‘Huckleberry Friend’: 6 Highlights From Henry Mancini Centennial Celebration Concert at Hollywood Bowl

Every composer hopes their music outlives them – and Henry Mancini’s music certainly has. Thirty years after Mancini died of pancreatic cancer at the too-young age of 70, his music came to life in a star-studded, season-opening concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The event, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mancini’s birth (the actual date was April 16) featured special guests Michael Bublé, Cynthia Erivo, Dave Koz and Henry’s daughter Monica Mancini and was conducted by Thomas Wilkins leading the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Mancini, who conducted at the Bowl 29 times between the 1960s and the ’90s, made plenty of history in his day. He won album of the year at the inaugural Grammy Awards in 1959 (for The Music From Peter Gunn) and was, for many years, the all-time top Grammy winner with 20 awards. (Beyoncé currently holds that distinction, with 32 awards.)

In 1962-63, Mancini became the first composer to win back-to-back Oscars for best original song – for “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses,” both written with lyricist Johnny Mercer.

Mancini was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984. He received a posthumous lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1995. His songs have been covered by a broad range of artists, including Beyoncé, Carpenters, Frank Ocean, Lizzo, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Elton John and R.E.M.

Jon Burlingame’s book Dreamsville: Henry Mancini, Peter Gunn, and Music for TV Noir was published earlier this month. A seven-track album, The Henry Mancini 100th Sessions – Henry Has Company, was released Friday June 21 via Primary Wave Music. The collection was produced by Gregg Field, winner of three Grammys and a Primetime Emmy (and the husband of Monica Mancini.)

Here are six highlights from the Henry Mancini 100th Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday (June 23) – and a final frame with details on upcoming celebrations of the centennial.

The Canadian crooner performed two songs, the samba-style “It Had Better Be Tonight” from The Pink Panther, and Mancini’s most famous composition, “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Moon River” is one of the most gorgeous songs ever written, a ballad that will hold up as long as there are “two drifters off to see the world.” It ranked No. 4 on the American Film Institute’s 2004 list AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs, just behind “Over the Rainbow,” “As Time Goes By” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Bublé included “It Had Better Be Tonight” on his 2007 album Call Me Irresponsible, which brought him the first of his five Grammys for best traditional pop vocal album. He sings Moon River,” backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on the new The Henry Mancini 100th Sessions – Henry Has Company collection.

Bublé, 48, said during the show that Mancini’s music held personal memories for him. His father gave young Michael piggy-back rides while humming the jaunty Pink Panther theme.

The Tony, Grammy and Daytime Emmy winner shined on “Days of Wine and Roses” from the 1962 film of the same name. The song is sometimes overshadowed by “Moon River,” but this ballad, also from a film directed by Blake Edwards, is also first-tier songwriting. Mercer’s line “A door marked ‘Nevermore’/That wasn’t there before” is one of the most poignant lyrics ever written.

Erivo also sang two songs from Mancini’s Oscar-winning song score for the 1982 film Victor/Victoria, which starred Julie Andrews and Robert Preston. Erivo sang the lovely ballad “Crazy World” (it’s gotten considerably crazier since then) and the jazz-edged “Le Jazz Hot.” Andrews, who sang the songs in the 1982 film, is a hard act to follow, but Erivo, 37, acquitted herself well.

The producers of the event didn’t even bother to look for a singer to sing “Whistling Away the Dark,” the hypnotic ballad Mancini and Mercer composed for the 1970 film Darling Lili. (The song brought them their fourth joint Oscar nod for best original song.) Instead, they simply screened Julie Andrews’ performance clip from the Blake Edwards film. Here it is.

Saxophonist Dave Koz opened the show with the whimsical “Baby Elephant Walk,” from Hatari!, and performed the encore number, a taut and muscular version of “The Peter Gunn Theme.” The latter theme puts the lie to the notion that Mancini only composed “pretty music.”

Koz, 61, also performed “Pink Panther Theme” with a film montage from that 1964 Peter Sellers classic. Koz had included the jazzy song on his Grammy-nominated 2007 album At the Movies.

Monica Mancini, one of Mancini’s two daughters, sang “Two for the Road” from the 1967 film of the same name starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. Monica said the melancholy piece was her dad’s favorite of his compositions. The song, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, failed to receive an Oscar nomination for best original song and wasn’t much of a hit, but Mancini was right to be proud of it nonetheless.

Monica Mancini, 72, also sang “Meggie’s Theme” from The Thorn Birds, the blockbuster 1983 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward.

Wilkins conducted the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra through a set which also included, in addition to the pieces already named, songs from the films Charade, 10, That’s Life and The Great Waldo Pepper and TV themes from The Thorn Birds, Newhart, Hotel and Remington Steele.

Wilkins also brought some personality to the proceedings with his brief introductions. In introducing a segment on Mancini’s TV themes, Wilkins said that upon hearing Mancini’s serene theme from the 1980s sitcom Newhart, “I could feel my blood pressure drop.”

Eighteen members of YOLA, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, had a chance to sit in with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra on “Crazy World” and the Pink Panther segment.

On Monday (June 24), the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles will honor Mancini’s centennial with an event featuring live performances by Dave Koz, Monica Mancini and Gregg Field, along with an all-star band. The evening will also feature a panel Q&A with members of the Mancini family, as well as a couple of surprise guest artists.

On Aug. 4, music director, conductor, and arranger Kevin Stites will explore Mancini’s music at the annual Gala Benefit Evening at the Ravinia Festival. Curated and hosted by actor Rob Lindley, “Mancini at 100: The Music of Henry Mancini, from the big screen, to the small screen, to the stage and beyond” features Broadway vocalists Jessie Mueller, Norm Lewis and Karen Mason.

On Sept. 2, Edwin Outwater and the BBC Concert Orchestra will celebrate Mancini and his music at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Among the classics to be performed are the themes from The Pink Panther and Peter Gunn, joined by gems from the lounge music and space-age pop genres Mancini helped inspire, including pieces by Burt Bacharach, Les Baxter and Juan García Esquivel. The performance will also stream live on BBC Radio.

On Sept. 28, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. will honor Mancini’s 100th with a special concert event at the Library of Congress’ Coolidge Theater.

This fall, The Extraordinary Life of Henry Mancini: Official Graphic Novel will hit shelves. The work, written by David Calcano and illustrated by the studio Fantoons, illustrates every step in Mancini’s journey.

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