Generations of moviegoers and theme park guests have been introduced to the world of Disney through the songs of Richard and Robert Sherman. Whether they know the names behind the songs or not, you’d be hard pressed to find a person alive who hasn’t at one time or another hummed one of the Shermans’ unforgettable tunes; even today, they remain the quintessential lyrical voice of Walt Disney.
Richard and Robert Sherman are probably best known for their work on Mary Poppins, for which they won two Oscars®: best score, and best song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Another of their songs from the film, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” became a pop hit, entering the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1965. “Feed the Birds,” a lullaby, became one of Walt Disney’s all-time favorite songs.
Robert Sherman recalled, “The point of the song—that it doesn’t take much to give a little kindness—was what really registered with Walt.”
Born in Manhattan on June 12, 1928, Richard’s father was Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman, who penned such Depression-era songs as “Potatoes Are Cheaper, Tomatoes Are Cheaper, Now’s the Time to Fall in Love,” which became one of comedian Eddie Cantor’s signature tunes.
After his family moved to Beverly Hills, California, Richard attended Beverly Hills High School before majoring in Music at Bard College. Drafted into the United States Army, he served as conductor for the Army band and glee club, from 1953 until 1955.
In 1951, the Sherman brothers’ first song, “Gold Can Buy You Anything But Love,” was recorded by cowboy crooner Gene Autry and played daily on his radio show. Their big break came in 1958, when Mouseketeer Annette Funicello recorded their song “Tall Paul,” which shot up to number seven on the charts and sold 700,000 singles.
The Sherman brothers went on to write a string of top ten hits for Annette, including “Pineapple Princess,” until Walt Disney took notice and hired them as staff composers.
Over the years, they contributed to such films as The Parent Trap, The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and the entire Winnie the Pooh series, including Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. They also contributed to television shows, such as Zorro and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
During the Sherman brothers’ 13-year career at Disney (1960-73), they received four Academy Award® nominations and a Grammy® award and wrote more than 200 songs for 27 films and two dozen television productions. They also contributed music for a number of theme park attractions, including Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room and the iconic song “It’s a Small World”—one Richard refers to as “a prayer for peace.” Among their last projects before leaving Disney were songs for Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland, which included the whimsical “One Little Spark” and the catchy “Meet the World.”
In 1992, Disney Records released a retrospective collection of their music, The Sherman Brothers: Disney’s Supercalifragilistic Songwriting Team. The brothers returned to the Studio in 1998 to compose music for The Tigger Movie; they also penned their autobiography, Walt’s Time: From Before to Beyond. In 2009, a second compilation of Sherman hits, The Sherman Brothers Songbook, was released, and their life stories were told in the documentary film The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story.
Richard is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was awarded the National Medal of the Arts at the White House in 2008.
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.”