The Mancini Century

November 30, 2023 | Paul E. Richardson

Sometimes a simple truth can also be a huge understatement. For instance, asserting that Henry Mancini was one of the most prolific, influential composers of the twentieth century.

Let’s begin with the awards. He won four Academy Awards (nominated 18 times), a Golden Globe, and twenty (!) Grammy Awards (nominated 72 times), plus a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. He was also nominated for two Emmys.

These awards alone attest to his formidable body of work in film and music, and indeed, Mancini (born Enrico Nicola Mancini – his father was a steelworker and amateur musician; both parents were immigrants from Italy) recorded over 90 albums, and scored over 100 films for TV and film and over two dozen TV series. 

It would not be far off to say that Mancini’s was the music of America in the 1960s-1980s.

Mancini conducts

In fact, it would take a very long article to even begin to chronicle Mancini’s body of work, or to skim the surface of his rich biography, to say nothing of capturing his influence on American music and culture. So let us instead offer just a few interesting biographical and musicological tidbits that speak to this in a different way…

  • Not only was Mancini an accomplished composer and pianist, he also was masterful on the flute; he actually began his musical life by learning the piccolo.
  • Mancini first attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. But within a year he had transferred to the Juilliard School, following a successful audition, in which he performed a Beethoven sonata and improvisation on Cole Porter’s Night and Day.
  • At 18, he enlisted in the military to join the fight in WWII (during which he met Glenn Miller), and  in 1945, he helped liberate the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria. 
  • Mancini with his awards
    Mancini with two Oscars
    His earliest recordings, in the 1950s and early 1960s, were jazz. His first job out of the military was with the Glenn Miller Orchestra – and, notably, Mancini’s first Oscar nod was for his score on The Glenn Miller Story.
  • Here’s an interesting demonstration of the breadth of his compositional work: he composed both the theme for NBC Nightly News and the Viewer Mail theme for Late Night with David Letterman.
  • The composer John Williams was 25 when first invited to play piano for Mancini’s film orchestra. He also played on the original 1958 recording of Peter Gunn, written and conducted by Mancini. Williams was then known as Johnny T. or Curly. 
  • Both Williams and Quincy Jones have said Mancini played a significant role in their subsequent Hollywood success as composers.
  • Mancini scored films in every conceivable genre, from the Bonzo series to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, from The Great Waldo Pepper to Days of Wine and Roses.
  • He once did a cameo appearance on the TV sitcom Frasier, as the show’s star, Kelsey Grammar, was a huge Mancini fan.
  • Core to Mancini’s career was his collaboration with writer/producer Blake Edwards (26 films). The actress Julie Andrews said the two men met on the Universal Studios lot in the late 1950s, after which Edwards asked Mancini to write the music for his new TV series, Peter Gunn. “Blake told me,” Andrews said, “that when he first heard that iconic Peter Gunn theme, he just about fell down. He was gobsmacked.”
  • Edwards later, in 1968, used a yet to be released Mancini theme to help him propose to Andrews.
  • Eight of Mancini’s 90+ albums (varying from big band to jazz to classical to pop) were gold.

Mancini at 100 LogoHenri Mancini was born 100 years ago this coming June 14. The Festival Boca tribute concert to him, Mancini at 100, kicks off our 18th season on Friday, March 1. 

For the concert, the Frost School of Music’s Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra will be joined onstage by Mancini’s daughter, two-time Grammy-nominated vocalist Monica Mancini, eight-time Grammy winner Gregg Field, and five-time Grammy nominee pianist Shelly Berg, plus other surprise guest artists in an extraordinary multimedia event (with exclusive photo and video archival footage) dedicated to the centenary celebration of the great composer’s birth.

Join us, won’t you?

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