Sibling Songs: Richard & Robert Sherman And Their Disney Tunes

by Mike Lyons

Richard and Robert Sherman still remember the day of "The Challenge." As one of Hollywood's most popular song writing teams, the brothers created many of Disney's classic film and theme park songs. But before accolades and awards, there was "The Challenge."

(Left to right) Robert and Richard Sherman at work on one of their many classic tunes for Disney. © Disney. All Rights Reserved.

It was the early Fifties and the two had just graduated from Bard College in New York. "I wanted to write the great American novel," remembers Robert, "and Dick wanted to write the great American musical."

"We were both digging the great American hole in the ground," adds Richard with a laugh.

Then, their father, Al Sherman (who had a tremendously successful career as a composer himself, with such songs as "You Gotta Be a Football Hero" to his credit) made "The Challenge."

"He came to our apartment one day," says Robert, "and said, 'Look at you two college graduates. I'll bet you can't write a song that kids would be willing to spend their lunch money on.'"

To prove their father wrong, the siblings quickly got down to work. It was indeed a struggle for the then-novice songwriters, but they did manage to pen a hit tune for singer Kitty Wells. "If it wasn't for our father's gauntlet dropping, we would have never written together," notes Richard, while Robert adds, jokingly, "And we would have had a great big hole in the ground!"

The Big Breaks

Then, in 1958, the Sherman brothers met one of Disney's most famous Mousketeers, Annette Funicello, who recorded Robert and Richard's song, "Taul Paul," for Disney Records. Needless to say, it was the Britney Spears-teeney-bopper-hit of its day. "She's our lucky star," says Robert fondly of Funicello.

Mary Poppins won the Sherman Brothers an Oscar award. © Disney. All Rights Reserved.

For their "star," the brothers would go on to write thirty-five songs, which eventually caught the ear of Walt Disney. Thus, in 1960, the Sherman brothers began a ten-year association with the Disney studio, as exclusive staff songwriters.

When Walt acquired the rights to a popular series of books by author P.L. Travers, he handed the brothers their most plum assignment. Mary Poppins (1964) was the studio's most ambitious film to date, featuring one of Broadway's biggest stars, Julie Andrews, numerous visual effects, impressive combinations of live-action and animation and, of course, music.

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