BURBANK, Calif., March 6, 2012 – Robert B. Sherman, half of the acclaimed and prolific Sherman Brothers songwriting team, passed away in London, England, on March 5 at The London Clinic, from an age-related illness. He was 86 years old. In collaboration with his brother, Richard M. Sherman (who survives him), Robert wrote some of the most memorable and beloved songs in the history of modern family entertainment. Personally selected by Walt Disney to write songs for his films, television shows, and theme parks, the Sherman Brothers had perhaps their biggest career milestone with the 1964 Disney masterpiece Mary Poppins, for which they received two of the film’s five Oscar® wins for Best Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and Best Original Score. They are responsible for more motion picture musical song scores than any other songwriting team in film history.
Throughout their incredible 50-year career as a songwriting team, the Sherman Brothers garnered nine Academy Award® nominations; won three Grammy Awards®; were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; received a remarkable array of 24 gold and platinum albums; and were the recipients of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Robert and his brother were the subject of an acclaimed 2009 documentary, the boys: the sherman brothers story, and recipients of the National Medal of Arts (the highest honor the United States government bestows on artists). In recent years, the Shermans have enjoyed great success on the London and Broadway stage with twin theatrical productions of two of their most beloved films: Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Commenting on Robert’s passing, Richard Sherman said, “My brother Bob was a poetic soul with limitless imagination and talent. He was my loyal friend all through the years. We were fortunate to have been blessed by two great men, our key inspirations—our father, Al, who teamed us up and taught us the craft, and Walt Disney, who provided us with an opportunity to realize our greatest dreams. Bob will be lovingly missed by all of us in his family.”
“Today, on behalf of everyone at Disney, we mourn the loss of an extraordinary talent, Robert Sherman,” said Disney President and CEO Bob Iger. “One of the world’s greatest songwriters and a true Disney legend, his legacy will endure forever through the magic of his music. From Mary Poppins and it’s a small world to Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book, Robert, along with his brother Richard, wrote many of Disney’s most memorable and beloved songs, which continue to enchant millions of people around the world to this day.”
Robert’s son, Jeff Sherman, who co-directed the documentary the boys, noted, “My dad passed away peacefully in London on Monday night. He was an incredible man who loved life and lived it to the fullest. As he often said, he wanted to bring happiness into the world, and unquestionably he succeeded. His love and his prayers, his philosophy and his poetry will live on forever. Forever his songs and his genius will bring hope, joy, and love to this small world.”
Multiple Oscar®-winning composer/songwriter Alan Menken said, “The Sherman brothers legacy goes far beyond the craft of songwriting. There is a magic in their songs and in the films and musicals they breathed life into. My thoughts and prayers are with Robert’s family, and with Richard Sherman, who has become a dear and precious friend to me.”
Leonard Maltin, film historian and author of the book The Disney Films, observed, “Robert Sherman and his brother Richard spent a decade providing lively, tuneful, and memorable songs for Walt Disney’s movies, TV shows, and theme parks—and worked their way into the hearts of millions of fans all over the world. Their songs have the unusual—and inimitable—ability to make you feel good. No wonder people took to them when they were new and still respond to them today.”
Jeff Kurtti, co-author of the 1998 Sherman Brothers biography, Walt’s Time: From Before to Beyond, said, “Bob, along with his brother Dick, wrote the songbook of youth for generations. I am often confronted with the idea that Sherman songs are ‘kiddie songs.’ This couldn’t be further from the truth. Bob in particular had an affection for, and a felicity with, words that gave the illusion of simplicity to truly complex works. He was a quiet center of intellect and feeling, and nothing revealed his inner life more than when he and his brother expressed rich ideas and deep emotions through music.”
Born in New York City on December 19, 1925, Robert Sherman was the son of popular Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman. His father was famous for composing such early 20th century song hits as “You’ve Got to Be a Football Hero,” “Potatoes are Cheaper, Tomatoes are Cheaper (Now’s the Time to Fall in Love!)” and “No! No! A Thousand Times, No!” But perhaps father Sherman’s greatest achievement was in the teaming of his sons to form one of the most successful and enduring songwriting partnerships in music history.
After a series of fits and starts the brothers found themselves composing numerous top-10 tunes for teen star and original Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, including the 1959 hit “Tall Paul” (marking the first time that a female singer reached a top ten slot for a rock ‘n’ roll single). The Shermans penned songs for such popular Funicello record albums as Hawaiianette (including “Pineapple Princess”), Dance Annette and The Story of My Teens, all presented on Buena Vista Records, a music subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions.
In December 1960, the Sherman brothers debuted their classic rock and roll song “You’re Sixteen.” The tune carries the distinction of having twice gone to Billboard’s No. 1 spot: once with Johnny Burnette and then an unprecedented second time with Ringo Starr in 1974. This seminal Sherman Brothers song hit, along with their tunes that helped to make Annette Funicello Disney’s first-ever musical teen star, caught the attention of Walt Disney himself and he quickly hired them as staff songwriters for his studio in 1960.
The early 1960s saw the Shermans compose a number of songs for such classic Disney films and TV productions such as Zorro, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Parent Trap (“Let’s Get Together,” performed by Hayley Mills), Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (theme song), In Search of the Castaways, Summer Magic (their first film musical) and The Sword in the Stone (their first Disney animated feature).
When Walt Disney produced four shows for 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, he turned to the Sherman brothers to provide memorable music for three of the attractions. For the General Electric Carousel of Progress, they penned the show’s optimistic theme song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” The Ford Motor Company sponsored the Disney attraction Magic Skyway, featuring the song “Get the Feel of the Wheel of a Ford.”
The New York World’s Fair also provided the Shermans with the opportunity to create perhaps their most famous song. After Walt Disney decided that his salute to the children of the world, being developed for the UNICEF pavilion and sponsored by Pepsi-Cola, needed a catchy theme song, he turned to his trusted songwriting team of Richard and Robert. The brothers composed “it’s a small world (after all).” Since then, it has become one of the most perennially translated and performed songs on earth.
In 1964, the Sherman brothers began work on what they affectionately refer to as their “magnum opus,” Walt Disney’s 1964 musical film fantasy Mary Poppins. The film was nominated for a Disney-record 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. On April 5, 1965, at the 37th Annual Academy Awards the film won five Oscars, including two statuettes for the Shermans—Best Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and Best Original Score.
The remainder of the 1960s and early 70s saw the Sherman brothers contributing popular songs and scores to numerous classic Disney films. Some of their memorable Disney top box-office film credits of the era include The Monkey’s Uncle (1965), That Darn Cat! (1965), Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), The Gnome-Mobile (1967), The Jungle Book (1967), The Happiest Millionaire (1967), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1969), The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band (1969), The Aristocats (1970) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).
In the early 1970s, the Sherman brothers left the Walt Disney Studios to pursue other film projects. They went on to provide an array of music, songs and occasional screenplays to such memorable family films as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Snoopy Come Home (1972) Charlotte’s Web (1973), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1973), Huckleberry Finn (1974) and The Slipper and the Rose (1976).
In 1990, the Sherman brothers received the prestigious Disney Legends Award given by The Walt Disney Company. The award is given to individuals whose body of work has made a significant impact on the Disney entertainment legacy. They were also honored in 1991 with BMI’s (Broadcast Music Incorporated) Lifetime Achievement Award and share a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame directly across from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where Mary Poppins premiered in 1964.
In 1999, Camphor Tree Publishers released the Sherman brothers’ autobiographical book entitled Walt’s Time: From Before to Beyond. The impressive family album-style book chronicles their amazing career(s) from childhood through their current endeavors using personal recollections and rarely seen family photos, film production photos and artwork.
The following year the Sherman brothers marked the new millennium with their fifth score for a Disney animated Winnie the Pooh film—The Tigger Movie (released in February 2000). For the film’s keynote song “Your Heart Will Lead You Home,” they shared composing credits with famed pop star Kenny Loggins.
Accolades continued in September 2002 as the Sherman brothers received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Themed Entertainment Association in a ceremony at Hollywood’s historic El Capitan Theatre. In February 2003, Richard and Robert received the Windsor McCay Lifetime Achievement Award during the 30th Annual Annie Awards, presented by the International Animated Film Society.
In March 2010, the Disneyland Resort in California saluted the Shermans for their musical contributions to Disney Parks around the world. They were honored with their very own “window” on Main Street, U.S.A., which states: “Two Brothers Tunemakers – Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman: We’ll Write Your Tunes For a Song.”
In November 2006, a stage musical of their 2004 Olivier Award winning London West End production of Mary Poppins, produced by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, opened on Broadway to acclaim and received seven Tony Award® nominations. The show combines the stories of P.L. Travers and the Academy Award-winning film to create an unforgettable theatrical experience and is currently playing to packed theaters on Broadway and on tour across North America and Australia.
In April 2002, the stage version of their classic 1968 film musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened to acclaim at the historic London Palladium. Nominated for three Olivier Awards in the United Kingdom and five Tony Awards on Broadway, the show won Best Musical at the 2002 Variety Awards and the coveted 2006 Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for Best Family Show. The popular show is currently on tour throughout North America and the United Kingdom.
Thanks to their musical contributions to the Disney Parks around the world, the sun never sets on a Sherman Brothers song—their tunes are heard daily in California, Florida, Japan, France and China. Through the years many popular Disney Park attractions and entertainment spectaculars have featured Sherman brothers tunes, including Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Carousel of Progress, it’s a small world, Adventure Thru Inner Space, Innoventions, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Meet the World, Journey into Imagination, Fantasmic! and, most recently, World of Color.
Following the successful West End debut of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the death of his beloved wife of 50 years, Joyce, Robert moved to London in 2002 to embark on a life filled with personal projects that included painting, writing poems and completing a long gestating collection of short stories entitled Moose.
In addition to his brother, Richard M. Sherman, Robert is survived by four children—Jeff Sherman, Robert J. Sherman, Laurie Sherman, and Tracy Sherman; as well as five grandchildren: Alex and Ryan (Jeff’s sons), and Josh, Amy and Sarah (Laurie’s children).
A public funeral service is planned at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Culver City on Friday, March 9 at 1 p.m. in the Large Chapel. Plans for a life celebration will be announced shortly.