Disney Songwriter Robert B. Sherman Dies at Age 86


I definitely had a Disney childhood. Among the first movies I ever went to see in a theater or at a drive-in were Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and Winnie-the-Pooh. At the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, I got the thrill of my young life when we went on an amazing ride to see miniature animatronic children of all nations, something called “It’s a Small World.” What all those classics shared was wonderful music by the songwriting team of Robert R. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman.

The Sherman brothers were born in New York, the sons of a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, and grew up in Beverly Hills.

Robert B. Sherman died Monday in London at the age of 86. His brother Richard, who is three years younger, lives in California. The pair won Best Song and Best Score Oscars for Mary Poppins in 1965 — and well they should have; I can still hear the lyrics go through my head from time to time, and the stage version is still running on Broadway. Robert went on to earn nine other Academy Award nominations, as well as numerous Grammys and gold and platinum albums. In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded the brothers the National Medal of Arts.

Although I loved The Jungle Book, Disney’s animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli stories, I never thought about the music until I watched the special features in the anniversary edition from a few years back. In one segment, Sharon Stone, of all people, talked about growing to love jazz because of The Jungle Book‘s score. At that point, I started paying attention to the scatting and lively syncopation that made that music so upbeat and happy.

My kids grew up on the Sherman’s music too. In the days of VHS, we had a collection of Disney Sing-Along Song videos featuring numbers from their feature films that threatened to engulf the entire living room. And we played them over, and over, and over. I wouldn’t be surprised if my kids knew every word to “A Spoonful of Sugar” as well as I do.

So in honor of the life and word of Robert B. Sherman, give a listen to my favorite earworm from Mary Poppins above, and then go listen to some other favorite tunes selected by the staff of NPR.

NOTE: The date of Sherman’s death was corrected above to Monday. And a video clip of a song from the Jungle Book which was not by the Sherman brothers was replaced with a Mary Poppins song that was!

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