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American Music from A to Z in the NLS Music Collection: M—Henry Mancini

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In a recent blog by NLS Music Section staff Brian McCurdy, he summarized composer John Williams contributions to movie scores and highlighted his military career as a member of the Air Force Band.

Another heavyweight movie and television composer enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces in 1943. Henry Mancini met other musicians being recruited by Glenn Miller, and based upon Miller’s endorsement, was assigned to the 28th Air Force Band. He subsequently was reassigned to other duties (Engineer’s Brigade), and at the conclusion of the war, helped liberate a concentration camp in Austria in 1945.

Mancini was a multi-talented musician; composer, conductor, arranger, flutist, and pianist. He won numerous awards, (four Academy Awards, twenty Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe) and fortunately for us, created a lasting partnership with Blake Edwards, film director.

Born of Italian immigrants, Mancini’s musical life began early, studying piccolo at age eight. He continued with conductor Max Adkins, and while playing music was fun, his preference was for analyzing music, breaking it down to see how the composers had constructed it.  (This was a favorite class of mine titled ‘Form and Analysis’. You see how and why the composer created their composition according to the trends, rules and environment at the time). After high school he attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology and later in the same year transferred to Juilliard. First year students weren’t allowed in the music theory and orchestration classes, so Mancini ‘treaded water’ as it were, studying piano. But his education was about to go on the road with his military life beginning in the Air Force Band.

From his networking in the military, he continued as a pianist and arranger with the Glenn Miller orchestra, now led by Tex Beneke. Mancini continued his studies privately with Ernst Krenek and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. I would think these one-on-one sessions were much more beneficial than a classroom setting.

His studio career started in 1952 with Universal-International, working in the music department. “They made the movies, you provided the music” is how I would describe that job. Science-fiction was a hot draw then, and Mancini’s music is heard in “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “It Came From Outer Space,” and “Tarantula.” (Hey, it paid the bills.) He also received the first of his 18 Academy Award nominations for The Glenn Miller Story.

He left Universal-International in 1958, working as an independent composer/arranger. It doesn’t get much better than that. And fortuitously, he met Blake Edwards, directing the television series Peter Gunn. With each episode of Peter Gunn, he wrote new music. No re-mixing theme A here and theme B there. They collaborated on 30 films, including The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, and Victor/Victoria. Scoring/composing for movies were reflective of the music scene at the time, as more composers were including jazz motifs and harmonic structures, moving away from lush romantic and swashbuckling themes in the style of Richard Strauss. However, in 1973 his score for Frenzy by Alfred Hitchcock was the only rejection of his career because Hitchcock said it was “too macabre.” That’s powerful music if you’re frightening Hitchcock.

He was so in demand for television and his ongoing partnership with Blake Edwards, I feel as if his music has entered our national consciousness. The era of mini-series for television in the 1980s such as The Thornbirds, provided a ‘hook’ for fans as they watched the drama unfold. The news departments at networks commissioned music and themes to open their broadcasts for election coverage, and NBC used Salute to the President by Mancini from 1976 (Jimmy Carter) to 1992 (Bill Clinton.) And, here’s an extra fact: NBC Nightly News current theme music is composed by John Williams.

Mancini’s music has been categorized as ‘easy listening.’ I wouldn’t consider that definition as correct. Just because it’s not loud with a message doesn’t downgrade its quality. It’s music. And it’s good music.

Please enjoy this off-the-record interview with Henry Mancini by Joe Smith.

Smith, J. & Mancini, H. (1986) Off the record interview with Henry Mancini, -1988?-05-14. [to 1988?-05-14] [Audio] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

And check out this finding aid to the Henry Mancini papers donated to the Library of Congress.

Enjoy his contributions to the American songbook, (my huckleberry friends.)

To check out the materials listed below, you can download the digital files through BARD, or borrow hard copies of braille music and talking books on digital cartridge. Call the Music Section at 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or e-mail us at [email protected]. If you are new to BARD, you may find the following links helpful: Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access.


The Pink Panther. Theme Song. For piano. Bar-over-bar format. BRT37088

The Pink Panther. Theme Song. For piano. Bar-over-bar format. BRM33037

Baby Elephant Walk. For piano. Bar-over-bar format. BRM33039

The Sweetheart Tree.  For voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. BRM24381

Moon River. Piano music. Bar-over-bar format. BRM20896

Days of Wine and Roses. BRM35016 (Popular Music Lead Sheet No. 97.)


Theme from the Pink Panther. Piano by Ear. DBM01756

Moon River. Sax by Ear, alto saxophone. DBM02727

Moon River. Piano by ear. DBM02413.

Thorn Birds Theme. Piano by ear. DBM02944.

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