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My Signature Song: 'Moon River'


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


MERCER: (Singing) Moon River and me.

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