Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Late Great Robert B. Sherman

Robert B. Sherman, who with his brother Richard M. Sherman wrote songs for movies ranging from Mary Poppins to The Tigger Movie, died on 6 March 2012 at the age of 86.

Robert B. Sherman was born in Brooklyn, New York on 19 December 1925. His father was songwriter Al Sherman. His mother was Rosa Dancis, who appeared in silent films. His brother Richard was born two years later. While Mr. Sherman was still young the family moved to Southern California. He attended high school in Beverly Hills, California. During World War II he enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 17.  He received several medals, including two Battle Stars, a Combat Infantryman Badge, an American Campaign Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Purple Heart. The Purple Heart he received when he was shot in the knee. He recuperated in Taunton, Somerset and Bournemounth, Dorset. It was during this period that he became fascinated with English culture.

Following World War II both Robert and Richard Sherman attended Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Robert majored in English Literature, while his brother Richard majored in Music. After graduation the two brothers shared an apartment in Los Angeles Robert wrote stories and novels (in fact, he completed two novels--The Best Estate and Music and Candy & Painted Eggs). Richard wrote songs. It was their father who bet them that they could not team up and write a song that a kid would buy. The two brothers then teamed up to write a song. That song, "Gold Can Buy Anything (but Love)" was recorded by Gene Autry.

In 1958 Robert Sherman founded a music publishing company, Music World Corporation. It was also in 1958 that the Sherman Brothers would have their first real hit, "Tall Paul," sung by Annette Funicello. Their success brought them to the attention of Walt Disney. The Sherman Brothers composed additional music for the Disney series Zorro and then songs for The Parent Trap (1961), Big Red (1962), Summer Magic (1963), and The Sword in the Stone (1963). They composed the song "It's a Small World (After All)" for the Disney exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair in 1964. It would later be used for the attraction "It's a Small World" at Dinseyland, Disney World, and other Disney resorts.  It would also become one of their most famous songs.

Nineteen sixty four would also see the release of what was perhaps their greatest accomplishment, the music and lyrics for Mary Poppins (1964). The movie included some of their most famous compositions, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", and "Chim Chim Cher-ee (which won the Oscar for Best Song).  They also won the Oscar for Best Score for Mary Poppins. Released the same year, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones also included songs by the Sherman Brothers.

The Sherman Brothers would go onto write songs for the "Winnie the Pooh" shorts, The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967), The Jungle Book (1967), and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968). The first movie not produced by Disney for which they provided music and lyrics was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968. They went onto write songs for Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Snoopy Come Home (1972), Charlotte's Web (1973), Tom Sawyer (1973), Huckleberry Finn (1974), The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976--Margaret Lockwood's final movie appearance), The Magic of Lassie (1978), Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989), and The Tigger Movie (2000).

The Sherman Brothers also wrote songs outside of films. They composed the music and lyrics for the Broadway play Over Here (1974). They also composed several pop songs, including the hit "You're Sixteen." 

With his brother Richard, Robert B. Sherman had a gift for creating lively songs that stuck easily in the mind. Indeed, several of their songs have become standards over the years, including nearly everything from Mary Poppins, "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book, the "Winnie the Pooh" theme, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" from the movie of the same name, "Let's Get Together" from The Parent Trap, and many more. It is very doubtful that anyone born in the second half of the Twentieth Century did not hear several of the Sherman Brothers' songs as children. In fact, while Rogers and Hammerstein may be better known, I rather suspect will be Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman who will have the more lasting success.

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