Generations of moviegoers and theme park guests have been introduced to the world of Disney through the songs of the Sherman brothers. 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’ timeless 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 December 19, 1925, Robert’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 the family moved to Beverly Hills in 1937, Robert attended Beverly Hills High School, where he wrote and produced radio and stage plays. He joined the United States Army in 1943 at the age of 17, and led the first squad of men to liberate the Dachau concentration camp in 1945. Soon thereafter he was shot in the knee and added a Purple Heart to his many decorations; he recuperated in Britain, where he developed a lifelong love of English culture.
Upon his return to the United States, he attended Bard College and obtained degrees in English Literature and Painting in 1949. He would continue to write and paint for the rest of his life.
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 10 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.
Robert 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, his brother 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.”
Robert Sherman passed away on March 5, 2012, in London, England. He had moved to London in 2002, and had continued to write, paint, and collaborate with his brother Richard from afar. His son Jeffrey Sherman paid tribute to his father by saying he “wanted to bring happiness to the world and, unquestionably, he succeeded.”