Songs We Love: Disney Songwriters The Sherman Brothers

Robert Sherman (left) and his brother Richard in a documentary of their life and songs, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story. i i

hide captionRobert Sherman (left) and his brother Richard in a documentary of their life and songs, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story.

Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Robert Sherman (left) and his brother Richard in a documentary of their life and songs, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story.

Robert Sherman (left) and his brother Richard in a documentary of their life and songs, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story.

Disney Enterprises, Inc.

A little piece of our childhood has left us. Robert Sherman, one half of a phenomenally successful songwriting duo (the other half is his brother Richard), died in his sleep Monday at 86. Together, the Shermans wrote some of Disney's most memorable songs. Their tunes appeared in some of the biggest kid movies of all time: Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book. And that's not to mention a song for an amusement-park ride that will never leave your head if we mention it. (You know the one.)

To celebrate the life and talent of Robert Sherman, we asked NPR staffers to share some of their favorite Sherman Brothers-penned songs and memories. We hope you'll do the same.

Songs We Love: Disney Songwriter Robert Sherman

  • "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from "Mary Poppins"

    YouTube

    My elementary-school music teacher introduced me to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" while we sat on the stage along risers, a heavy velvet curtain behind our backs shielding us from the rope-climbing and ball-tossing in the multipurpose room. It sounded atrocious, and I tried to spell it in my head as we all sang along (most of my fellow students were off-key, but not me, because I was a STAR), and I wondered what it meant. Superfragicaliwha? She led us through the song, while we stumbled and mumbled trying to put all those vowels and consonants together in the right order. It was definitely the biggest word I had ever heard. Superdociousexpicalafragalistic? No, that's not right. Sigh. I'm pretty sure most of us had no idea it was from the movie Mary Poppins. I know I didn't; I mostly wanted to see the word written down so I could dissect it. Superexpicalawho? Ugh. And what's this about the cat getting my tongue? Ow. Then, we got it: SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIEXPIALIDOCIOUS! SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIEXPIALIDOCIOUS! Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Supercalifragilisticexpialidociousssssss!

    —Tanya Ballard Brown, Editor, NPR Digital News

  • "I Wanna Be Like You" from "The Jungle Book"

    YouTube

    It's 1994 in dead-of-winter Minneapolis. I am having my Grunge Moment, a few years after everyone else. My favorite band, Trailer Trash, is playing at Lee's Liquor Lounge. I have a can of Grain Belt in one hand, doubtless a Marlboro Light in the other. And out of the speakers comes blasting ... what? What is this song? I know it — I know it and I CANNOT PLACE IT and it makes me want to bang on drums or jump around or get very excited in some primal, animal way. But the images it evokes are monkeys and cartoon bears. That music isn't grunge!! That's — that's DISNEY!!

    I later went back to record the band for a story, and I wore out the cassette they made for me of their cover version (which, now that I listen again, isn't all that different from the extraordinary original). Louis Prima, Robert and Richard Sherman — I'd follow your second line even if it went right under Shere Khan's nose.

    Kitty Eisele, Senior Supervising Editor, NPR's Morning Edition

  • "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from "Mary Poppins"

    YouTube

    Let's face it. "Chim Chim Cher-ee" is a song about unbridled Anglophilia. It's the sound of an American waltzing with a Dickensian fantasy. Composer Robert B. Sherman fell in love with England as a young American soldier recovering there from injuries sustained during World War II, and "Chim Chim Cher-ee" finds playfulness in the inflexibility of the class system as perhaps only an American could. The movie's orchestration is wildly lush and romantic, but the tune captures the mood of what it's like to move alone, far from home, through London's twilight streetscape. Somehow, it communicates a sense of both melancholy and the carnivalesque. A squeaky-clean paean to dirty labor, "Chim Chim Cher-ee" tells a story about finding your footing in a dark, grimy, uncertain world. Coo, what a song.

    —Neda Ulaby, NPR Reporter

  • "You're Sixteen"

    YouTube

    The Sherman brothers are best known for their Disney work, but my favorite predates that era: The classic teen pop song "You're Sixteen." Dick Sherman once said they were trying to write something "a kid would give up his lunch money to buy" (their songwriting dad's advice). Johnny Burnette had a hit with it in 1960, but I prefer Ringo Starr's version.

    —Elizabeth Blair, NPR Producer and Reporter

  • "It's A Small World (After All)"

    YouTube

    In my high-school Spanish class, merely humming the opening bars of "It's a Small World" was enough to earn you extra homework. Years earlier, a mechanical malfunction had trapped my teacher inside the Disney theme-park musical boat ride for several hours. Ever since, even the slightest hint of the insanely catchy tune would trigger her flashbacks. But for me, the Shermans' classic song — which they wrote specifically for the ride — brings back memories of my first childhood visit to Disney.

    I can still recall the sense of wonder and possibility my 5-year-old self felt at seeing dolls appear to come alive, singing and dancing their little wooden hearts out. (It was something I'd long suspected dolls were capable of.) Since then, I've been back to Disney more times than it's probably safe to admit, and "It's a Small World" is a required ride every time. Sure, the song can be a maddening earworm. But when the lights go dim and the music surrounds me, my eyes once again grow big and believing.

    Maria Godoy, NPR Senior Science Editor

Correction March 7, 2012

The audio of this story, as did a previous Web version, incorrectly states the day of composer Robert Sherman's death. He died on Monday.

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