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Songwriter Richard Sherman Has The Hits We Remember

We talk with songwriter and composer Richard Sherman about his work on the Disney classics “Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book,” and more.

Songwriter Richard Sherman in the WBUR Studios on Sept. 17, 2013.

Songwriter Richard Sherman in the WBUR Studios on Sept. 17, 2013. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Before “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” there was another giant generation of legendary Disney movie musicals.  Call them the classics.  ”Mary Poppins.”  ”The Jungle Book.”  ”Winnie the Pooh.”  More.  And Richard Sherman and his late brother Robert wrote them all.  The music, that is.  And the lyrics that still run deep in the minds of millions around the world.  It is an incredible songbook, with a very distinctive spirit.  Up next On Point:  composer Richard Sherman, on writing the Disney musical classics.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Richard ShermanAcademy- and Grammy-award winning composer and lyricist; with his brother, Robert, composed more motion-picture musical score songs than any other songwriting team in film history. Composed scores and songs for films including “Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book,” “Chitty Citty Bang Bang,” “The AristoCats,” and many, many more; co-author of “It’s A Small World After All.”

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: Cutting Through a Cultural Thicket — “As the band rolled through the familiar Dixieland rumble of “I Wanna Be Like You” and the sunny swing of “The Bare Necessities,” sax and sitar traded improvised solos, and tabla and drums found fresh grooves together. Richard M. Sherman, a songwriter on the 1967 animated film, looked on approvingly, tinkering with lyrics, chiming in with musical advice, or singing along when the occasion moved him.”

NPR: Songs We Love: Disney Songwriters the Sherman Brothers — “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.”

TIME: Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr Banks” – “Emma Thompson has taken on some difficult roles during her career, winning Oscars and numerous other awards for her performances in works based on classic literature and  historical events. But, says the actress, one role stands apart from the rest. ‘She’s the most difficult person I’ve ever played,’ Thompson says of her role as P.L. Travers, the author of the “Mary Poppins” books, in the forthcoming film ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’”

Actress Julie Andrews dances with the chimney sweeps in the chimney-sweep dance number during filming of "Mary Poppins" on a movie set representing London rooftops at the Disney Studios in Hollywood, Ca., Aug. 16, 1963. (AP)

Actress Julie Andrews dances with the chimney sweeps in the chimney-sweep dance number during filming of “Mary Poppins” on a movie set representing London rooftops at the Disney Studios in Hollywood, Ca., Aug. 16, 1963. (AP)

Playlist

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  • Leonard Bast

    The film “Mary Poppins” and I came into the world in the same year, and as a child I loved it. Having recently watched it again as an adult, I was struck by how incredibly subversive it is. Mary Poppins’ lesson to the children to “feed the birds,” challenges the establishment worldview of their banker father in a way that is perhaps even more relevant today than it was when the film was made. I’m very much looking forward to seeing “Saving Mr. Banks” and watching Walt Disney spar with P. L. Travers, who was quite a difficult biddy by all accounts. More than anything, thank you, Richard Sherman, for bringing me and many others so much pleasure through the years.

    • Citizen James

      “a difficult biddy” … now there’s a colorful phrase, and a regional one at that…

      • Leonard Bast

        I was actually thinking of another word starting with “b” that is often used for a difficult woman, but I wanted to be charitable. In all fairness to Miss Travers, film historian Brian Sibley, with whom I’ve exchanged the occasional online pleasantry, had a chance to spend some time with her in her later years, and his impressions were much more positive. Her relationship with Disney, in which an uptight old-world figure straight out of Victoria’s century bumped up against the very embodiment of American postwar popular culture, surely brought out the worst in her. It will be interesting to see what they do with it in the movie.

        • Citizen James

          Good points, and yes, particularly in on-line comments it is better to be more charitable in expressing your thoughts.

  • Heath

    A musician friend of mine recently asked a group of us to choose the “best” song from “Mary Poppins.” Of the four of us in the room, there were about 7 votes for “best” song- it was too hard to pin down one! The Sherman Brothers music is timeless.

    I’d like to know about the development of attractions like “It’s a Small World.” At what point in the process did music factor in and how did that song affect the other aspects of the show?

    -Heath from Littleton, MA

  • sharlyne1

    these are some of my absolute favorites! many happy childhood memories

  • John_in_VT

    Tom – Ask Richard what he thought of Brian Wilson’s “Disney Reimiagined” album.

  • Arthur

    I’m curious what Mr Sherman think about “modern” Disney songwriters and their works?

  • hellokitty0580

    I now think I know why I love pigeons. It’s because of “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins. My family loved that song.

    • Leonard Bast

      When I first visited St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, as I was walking up the steps, I didn’t think about history, or Sir Christopher Wren, or architecture. I thought about the bird woman in Mary Poppins.

  • Jacob Arnon

    Curious how Richard Sherman didn’t mention his Jewish background which mentioned in the Wikipedia article:

    ‘Sons of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Robert and Richard Sherman began writing songs together in 1951 on a challenge from their father, Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman. The brothers wrote together and with different songwriting partners throughout the rest of the decade.”

    I wouldn’t have mentioned it except that the song ‘feed the birds which I had never heard till now sounded to me vaguely Jewish (Yiddish).

    Oddly enough given Walt Disney’s history with Leni Riefenstahl the way Mr. Sherman sang it brought to mind Marlene Dietrich singing. (Ms. Dietrich was an anti-Nazi who fled Hitler’s Germany to the US. Disney to his eternal shame hosted the Nazi Riefenstahl.

    Mr. Sherman didn’t sound to me very knowledgeable about real history and what it did to his people in Europe.

    His idea of feed the birds is for the birds.

    Excellent songwriter though.

    • Leonard Bast

      This isn’t a show about politics. It’s a show about an incredibly talented man and the ways in which he and his brother brought joy to many people. It’s about the lasting cultural contribution that he made. Not everything is or has to be political.

      • Jacob Arnon

        I am not talking about politics but about the cultural origin of some of the music they wrote. The elder brother who unfortunately died and could not be interviewed was more open about his Jewishness. Too bad the brother in the closet was the one interviewed. Yes they were both greatly talented but that talent didn’t created out of while cloth it had a cultural address that incorporated many cultures and their own Jewish cultures among them.

        I suggest you watch the documentary film: “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story.” Listen to what John Williams says within the first ten minutes or so.

        Great and moving film.

  • HonestDebate1

    This was a great show. I don’t mean to put down the music of today, there’s some really good stuff out there but I do think the craft of songwriting is not as honed as it used to be. I loved what he said about simplicity, originality and accessibility.

  • gslouch

    What a great, great show! The music of our lives for those who grew up with these wonderful musicals. I was enchanted by Mary Poppins as a kid and that enchantment has never disappeared! Thank you so much Mr. Sherman!

  • Rhoda Auerbach

    Thank you so much for bringing this wonderful composer to your show. I was in my 20s when Mary Poppins was released, but it helped me cope so much. The Shermans’ music was an antidote to woes both international and personal. No matter how bad things got, there was always an image of Mary Poppins to help the medicine go down. The music and the lyrics reached everyone. I’ve written music but my lyrics are too far ahead of my words. I think you’ve inspired me to simplify a bit. Thank you for everything. You should write a score for a movie about the life of you and your brother. Thank you again, Mr. Sherman.

  • Jacob Arnon

    Pamela, I just saw the Sherman Brothers which I read about in your post after I composed mine.

    Thank you for alerting me to this wonderful documentary. It was very moving. How I wish the elder Sherman had been interviewed instead of the younger one.

    • Jeff Kurtti

      Since Robert died two years ago, that would be difficult.

      • Jacob Arnon

        I know. That was a rhetorical statement.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Richard, thank you for giving us so magical memories that we will cherish for our entire lives. What a great, uplifting show.

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