Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sherman Brothers at Disney

Robert B. Sherman (Dec. 19, 1925) and Richard M. Sherman (Jun. 12, 1928): The Sherman Brothers! No one on earth wrote more motion-picture musical song scores in film history and in 1990, they were honored the Disney Legends award at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA.

in 1960, the Sherman brothers began a ten-year association with the Disney studio, as exclusive staff songwriters writing songs for motion-pictures, rides, attractions and more.

They wrote “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” for the Carousel of Progress, the theme song for the “Enchanted Tiki Room” and what is perhaps their best-known song, "It's a Small World" for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Since then, some have claimed that this has become the most translated and performed song on Earth.

In this video you can see the Sherman Brothers playing the piano with Walt Disney and then, Walt talks about the New York World Fair and the Carousel of Progress Attraction.

In 1965, the Sherman Brothers won two Academy Awards for Mary Poppins and they have subsequently earned nine Academy Award nominations, two Grammy Awards, four Grammy Award nominations, and 23 gold- and platinum-certified albums.

The Shermans wrote all fourteen songs for the score, which has become one of film's most enduring soundtracks. Mary Poppins also brought the brothers Academy Awards for Best Music Score and Best Song ("Chim-Chim-Cheree").

About their Disney career, Richard said, "There's a line in "Mary Poppins" that says, 'A man has dreams of walking with giants to carve his niche in the edifice of time.' At Disney, we walked with giants."

"Feed the Birds," a lullaby, did not win the same level of public acclaim; however, it became one of Walt Disney's all-time favorite songs.

In May 2009, a documentary called the boys: the sherman brothers' story was released. In October 2009, Disney released a 59 track, two CD compendium of their work for the studio spanning forty-two years. The CD is entitled The Sherman Brothers Songbook.


Can you point to one particular thing that Walt Disney gave you that was very influential for your career?

Yes, he said "what’s happening while the song goes on?" He was very very involved in visuals. He didn’t want to just have singing heads singing at each other. He wanted to have action, something taking place, important things. So we constantly had to come up with almost scene ideas to make it work for him. So if we did a Spoonful of Sugar we had to say that’s when she is snapping her fingers and things are happening and then the kids try to snap their fingers. All these things are happening while she is singing the song, and he loved that. Then he gave that to his story people and they draw it up and make it happen on the screen. Basically we’d have to come up with ideas constantly. We never just came up with a song that they could sing. That was one of the greatest things that Walt gave us.

By the time we got to Walt Disney, we were really seasoned songwriters. We'd had a number of big hits and everything. We had written a lot of songs for Annette Funicello, that’s what brought us to Walt. She is our lucky star. She sang Tall Paul, Pineapple Princess, JoJo the Dog Faced Boy, Wild Willie, all these never to be forgotten songs. But they all were big hits for her and then we did albums like Hawaiiannette, Italiannette and Dance Annette. We just did song after song for Annette and Walt caught on. He listened to everything that she did. He was crazy about his girl. She was his little girl star and he was nuts about her. He said, "who are those guys that are writing the clever songs for Annette? I’d like to meet them." That’s how we got to meet Walt Disney. He brought us in to do assignments for her and one thing led to another.

What was it like working at Disney in those few years after Walt’s death?

That was a different story. Walt was like the champion of all his people and when he okayed a sequence or a scene it was in the picture. Nobody could cut it, nobody could screw around with it, nobody messed with it. But then a great void happened. There was no leader anymore and there were a bunch of sergeants scrambling around wondering where the general was. They had a board of directors that was seven people that were all trying very hard to do the right thing and never quite coming together. So decisions were made to shorten pictures and to drop sequences and it was actually not very pleasant.

Many years later you were asked to come back and write some songs for Epcot including for the Imagination Pavilion, One Little Spark, Magic Journeys and Makin' Memories.

That is a fun song. See, our relationship with Walt Disney Imagineering, that whole group who makes the rides and the experiences at the parks, was a separate organization although under the wing of Disney, and so we always had a very close relationship with them and we were working on things for them in the 70s and in the 80s. Occasionally we’d come in and do some special songs. We did the original Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow for the pavilion and Carousel of Progress and then they wanted a new song for the Eastern, for the one in Florida, so we wrote The Best Time of Your Life, a special song for them back in the 70s. We kept writing occasionally for them and then when Epcot was being created we did quite a number of songs for Epcot and even as recently as the 90’s we did revisions of old songs that we had done for Tomorrowland.

You did do some rework for that?

We did, like we took Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow and we called it, It’s a great new world and Innoventions, shining up our lives in every way. We wrote the new lyric on the old tune because they wanted to keep the tune. We did the new Innovention song and we did the new Rocket Rod song based on a song called Detroit which we had done, we call it Magic Highways.

In Walt’s Time, you said that you actually worked on some of the imitation flowers for the Jungle Cruise?

Yeah, yeah, years ago I worked for a company called Aldig Artificial Flowers. A friend of mine owned it and he gave me a job so I could support myself while I was trying to become a sensational songwriter. There was a long period there were Bob and I both were struggling in the field trying to stay alive while we were trying to make it. Yes, one of the jobs was they had subcontracted through Aldig was a certain amount of the leaves, weaving the leaves, the plastic leaves onto these trees and everything. I was doing that long before I ever worked for Disney as a songwriter. I was getting $2.50 an hour or $3.00, I forget what in those days.

What a coincidence.

Life, it’s a small world after all.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, it’s so funny to hear that from the person that actually wrote that song.

There again was the good fortune of working for a great man who was doing a great project which is a salute to the children of the world and they came up with this marvelous ride except for one problem, and that is the original thought was they were going to have each group of dolls, each of these Audio Animatronic dolls, singing the national anthem of the various countries. On paper that’s a brilliant idea but in point of actuality it was a disaster. It was cacophony, unintelligible. So one day we were walking through it and halfway through it, it was just horrible, and Walt said, "stop the music," stop it because nobody could understand it. He said, "now what we need is a simple little song" and he looked at us "you see what I mean fellows? A little simple roundelay." We said, "you mean a round? That would be terribly boring." He says, "you know a roundelay." I said, "what about a counter point, two little themes that can work together and separately at the same time?" He says, "that’s what I said, a roundelay."

With this Bob and I went off and started working. We thought "it's a small world" and we said that’s kind of nice. "After all" rhymes with small, yeah after all, small world after all, yeah that sounds pretty good. We started playing with that and when we finished it, we said, it’s too simple. It’s basic, much too simple a thing even though we had two themes and the whole thing that we originally set out to do, so we tried to top it and we couldn’t. And one day, about a week and a half, two weeks after we were given this assignment we got a call from Walt’s secretary, "Walt wants to hear what you got." He knew we were pretty fast but we were taking too long getting back to him. As we heard his footsteps down the hall, coming towards us, Bob said to me, play the first one just like that. I remember the decision was to play the first one. We had written three. All of them basically the same but one was a little more complex and one was a little more lyrical. He said, play the first one and don’t even discuss it, just play the first. So we played it for him. He listened very intently and he said, "yep, that’ll work. Okay, come with me." And that’s how we played it for the guys at Imagineering and that’s how it became part of the ride. We never dreamed in a million years, in a million years that everywhere in the world they’d know that song and they all sing it and they seem to like it very much. It makes us very proud and happy about it.

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