My Signature Song: 'Moon River'

Sep 8, 2019
Originally published on September 8, 2019 11:05 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In the 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's," a melancholy Audrey Hepburn, perched on a New York City windowsill, sang what would become a classic American ballad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOON RIVER")

AUDREY HEPBURN: (Singing) Moon River, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style someday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Moon River" won an Oscar for best original song. It was co-written by Johnny Mercer, who grew up in Savannah, Ga. And it was on a family trip there that Bill Canning, who's never seen "Breakfast At Tiffany's," first heard Mercer's recording of the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOON RIVER")

JOHNNY MERCER: (Singing) Moon River, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style someday.

BILL CANNING: And I thought - just was a beautiful song. It was very evocative of that kind of part of the South. But it had such beautiful lines that really kind of resonated with me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Canning is from Fayetteville, Ga., just south of Atlanta. He's a father of two, and that version of "Moon River" quickly became his signature song.

CANNING: It has a very romantic quality, not in the sense of love, but just these big, grand ideas about companionship. And I really kind of latched onto the second verse where he opens up with, you know, two drifters off to see the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOON RIVER")

MERCER: (Singing) Off to see the world. There's such a lot of world to see...

CANNING: I kind of think that that's a great encapsulation of what it's like to be a parent with a young child - with any child, really - but just the idea that, you know, we're in this together. We're going to go explore the world together. I thought that was such a beautiful line.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the time, James, his 3-year-old, got fussy at bedtime. Canning decided to sing "Moon River," and James calmed right down.

CANNING: Once I saw that it was actually working and that he was kind of getting quiet and kind of snuggling up next to me as I rocked him in a chair, I kind of thought that this is good. I'll keep going with it and make this part of the routine. And so it's been working ever since.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOON RIVER")

MERCER: (Singing) Moon River and me.

CANNING: We have a great clip of him on the swing set when he was maybe 1 1/2 or 2, and he was singing "Moon River" to himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You can sing "Moon River."

JAMES: (Singing) Moon river, (unintelligible).

CANNING: I teach middle school, so I'm very well aware of, you know, the difficulties fraught in that age. And I'm kind of hoping that, you know, it's routine and it's a habit and it's a ritual. And so even when he, you know, might get older and a little bit too cool for it, hopefully the bond that this has created and this kind of companionship we have will transcend and continue to go with it. And I - I'm cautiously optimistic that it'll work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOON RIVER")

MERCER: (Singing) Rainbow's end, waiting round the bend.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Bill Canning of Fayette, Ga., sharing his signature song "Moon River" by Johnny Mercer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOON RIVER")

MERCER: (Singing) Moon River and me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.