Henry Mancini Biography

Henry Mancini, a renowned musician and composer, is widely recognized for his immense contributions to the world of television and motion picture scores. With a career spanning nearly five decades, Mancini’s name has become synonymous with excellence in music. Having composed for over 100 films, his influence on the music of his time is undeniable. Inspired by legendary pianist Max Adkins, Mancini’s passion for music was ignited and he went on to create masterpieces such as The Pink Panther and Charade. His remarkable success is evident through his numerous awards, including 20 Grammy wins and a Golden Globe Award. Mancini’s unique style, which incorporated jazz into television and film scores, set him apart as a true innovator in the industry.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Enrico Nicola Mancini
  • Died At Age: 70
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Ginny Mancini (m. 1947–1994)
    • Father: Quinto Mancini
    • Mother: Anna Mancini
    • Children: Chris Mancini, Felice Mancini, Monica Mancini
  • Born Country: United States
  • Pianists
  • Composers
  • Died on: June 14, 1994
  • Place of death: Los Angeles, California, United States
  • U.S. State: Ohio
  • Ancestry: Italian American
  • Notable Alumni: Carnegie Mellon University College Of Fine Arts, Juilliard School
  • Cause of Death: Pancreatic Cancer
  • More Facts
  • Education: Juilliard School, Carnegie Mellon University College Of Fine Arts

Childhood & Early Life

Henry Mancini was born on April 16, 1924 in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, as Enrico Nicola Mancini. Both his parents, Quintiliano Mancini and Anna née Pece, were first generation migrants from Italy. He was raised in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, where Quintiliano Mancini worked in a steel mill.

An amateur musician, Quintiliano Mancini played flute and piccolo in a local group called Sons of Italy. Thus, Henry grew up in a musical environment, listening not only to his fathers’ band, but also to other musical programs like The William Tell Overture.

From the age of eight, he too started playing the flute. However, a decisive moment came in 1935, when at the age of eleven he heard Rudolph G. Kopp’s score in Cecil B. DeMille’s film, The Crusades. Impressed, he decided to become a film music composer when he grew up.

By twelve, Henry was studying piano by himself, imitating a neighbor’s player piano rolls. All along, he continued to play the flute and piccolo. He was selected as the first flutist in the Pennsylvania All State Band in 1937.

In 1939, at the age of fourteen, he began to study orchestral arrangements with pianist Max Adkins, at that time the leader of the Pit Band at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh. Soon, he fell in love with Jazz and became particularly fond of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.

Still in his teens, he began to write arrangements for Adkins, sending one of them to Benny Goodman, whom he met through Max Adkins. Although he was too young to take up such an ambitious assignment Goodman wrote back to him, encouraging him to pursue a career in music.

In 1942, Henry Mancini graduated from Aliquippa High School and entered Carnegie Institute of Technology. While there, he appeared in an audition for Juilliard School of Music, successfully demonstrating his interest in both classical and jazz music by playing a Beethoven sonata and an improvisation on Night and Day.

Late in 1942, Henry Mancini entered Juilliard School of Music on scholarship, hoping to study orchestration and composition. However, those two subjects were not scheduled till the second year and so he spent the first majoring in piano.

His plan for higher education was cut short in 1943, when he was drafted into the United States Army Air Forces. Initially assigned to the 28th Air Force Band, he was later reassigned to the 1306th Engineers Brigade and sent to Europe, where he helped to liberate Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.

Early Career

In 1946, on being discharged from the US Army, Henri Mancini began his career as a pianist and arranger for Glenn Miller Orchestra. Concurrently, he continued to study composition, counterpoint, harmony and orchestration with renowned composers.

In 1947, he moved to Hollywood, initially working as a freelancer, playing the piano in studio sessions, arranging and conducting music for night club acts, working on radio shows till 1952. He later said that radio scoring taught him the “craft of writing for dramatic shows“.

His first break came in 1952 when he was hired by Universal International to do a fill-in job for their film, Lost in Alaska. Impressed by his work, the production company decided to retain him and very soon he began working for them as an in-house arranger and composer.

He remained with the Universal International for the next six years, doing every kind of job for them, arranging music for old pieces and writing new ones for jazz or Latin bands. Moreover, he would be called in whenever they needed some source music. It helped him to gain wide experience.

In 1953, he was asked to compose the music of their up-coming film, Glenn Miller Story, mainly because of his big band background. Released in February 1954, the original soundtrack to the movie occupied number one position on the Billboard albums chart for 10 weeks, earning him his first Oscar nomination.

While with Universal International, he gave music for over 100 films, gaining public attention with Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. It was one of the first films, where he took advantage of source music, using horns outside of all the bars. He later identified this work as one of his best.

After Universal

In 1958, Henry Mancini left Universal International to work freelance. He was invited by Blake Edwards to write the music for his new TV series, Peter Gunn. Written for a small jazz ensemble and influenced by rock and roll, the sound track album reached No. 1 in Billboard’s Pop LP charts.

In early 1960s, Mancini and Edwards formed a team, collaborating on several films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), composing Moon River on Johnny Mercer’s lyrics to accommodate Audrey Hepburn’s limited vocal range. It was followed in 1962 by Days of Wine and Roses, for which he wrote the prize-winning eponymous song.

While working with Blake Edward, Henry Mancini also continued to work with other directors, writing Baby Elephant Walk for Howard Hawks’ Hatari (1962). Meanwhile in 1961, he had another success, winning yet another Academy nomination for his works in Bachelor in Paradise.

His next hit came in 1963, when he composed the score for The Pink Panther. The soundtrack album released in 1964 remained at the Billboard Pop Album Chart for 41 weeks, peaking at No. 8. The Pink Panther Theme, released as single, reached the Top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.

By mid 1960s, Henry Mancini had become one of the most sought-after American composers. Among his popular works of this period were for The Great Race (1965), Two for the Road (1967), Wait Until Dark (1967), The Party (1968) etc.

Continuing to work until his death in 1994, he wrote scores for at least one hundred films, The Son of The Pink Panther (1993) being his last work in this genre. Some of the important works of his later years include Darling Lili (1970), 10 (1979), Victor/Victoria (1982), The Glass Menagerie (1987) etc.

While working for films, he also continued to work in television productions. Side by side, he continued to release numerous singles, among which Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on June 28, 1969, remaining there for two weeks. He also recorded 90 albums of varying style, eight of which certified gold by Recording Industry Association of America. Equally in demand as a concert performer, he had given over six hundred symphony performances during his lifetime, often conducting over fifty times a year.

Major Works

Henry Mancini is best remembered for his 1961 work, Moon River, which he composed for Blake Edward’s film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Originally sung by Audrey Hepburn, the song was later recorded many times by many artists including Andy Williams, Jerry Butler, Danny Williams, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Perry Como etc.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1946, Henry Mancini met his would-be wife, Virginia “Ginny” O’Connor, while working together at the Glenn Miller Orchestra and got married in the following year. An established singer, she later gave up her career to raise their three children, remaining together until his death from pancreatic cancer on June 14, 1994. The couple had three children, Chris, Felice and Monica. Among them, Monica became a professional singer, Chris a music publisher and promoter and Felice ran The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation (MHOF).

On April 13, 2004, the United States Postal Service honored Mancini with at37 cent commemorative stamp. Henry Mancini Institute, established in 1996 and Henry Mancini Arts Academy, established in 2005, continue to carry his legacy to this day.

Leave a Comment