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Disney composer Richard M. Sherman has died at 95

Composer Richard Sherman performs at The Los Angeles Children's Chorus' Annual Gala in 2015.
Alberto E. Rodriguez
Getty Images
Composer Richard Sherman performs at The Los Angeles Children's Chorus' Annual Gala in 2015.

Richard M. Sherman, the Academy Award-winning composer who was part of a songwriting team with his late brother, Robert, has died due to age-related illness at 95. The Sherman brothers wrote the scores for two dozen films, many for Disney — among them, Mary Poppins (for which they won two Oscars), The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Born in New York on June 12, 1928, he and his family moved to Beverly Hills, Calif., when Sherman was 9. His father, Al, was a popular songwriter and challenged Richard and his older brother to write together, Sherman remembered in 2005. "He sensed that Bob and I collaborating and pooling our wits could come up with something."

They had a top 10 hit in 1958, "Tall Paul," with Annette Funicello, which brought them to the attention of Walt Disney.

Through the 1960s and into the 1980s, they were, in effect, Disney's house songwriters — beginning with The Parent Trap, in 1961. They wrote many film scores and even theme park songs for the company, such as "It's a Small World (After All)."

But it was the score for Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, that cemented their reputation. Filled with standards such as "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim Cher-ee" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," the film's gentle ballad "Feed the Birds" was Walt Disney's favorite song.

"He'd call, not every Friday, but he'd call up and say 'Come over, we'll talk,' " recalled Sherman. "And so, we'd go over and we'd pass the time about what we were doing, because we were always working on something. And then he'd look out the north window of his office and say, 'Play it.' And I'd play and sing 'Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag.' And he'd say, 'Yup, have a good weekend boys!' "

Producer Cubby Broccoli, who owned the rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, hired them to adapt the author's children's book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Sherman said he and his brother had fun writing the title song about the magical flying car. "We wanted the song to sound like the way the motor sounded," Sherman explained, "because that's the trick, the whole thing is that it backfires and goes 'bang bang.' " The rhythmic song was nominated for an Oscar.

While they were very much on the same wavelength as songwriters, the brothers had a complicated, sometimes contentious relationship, which was documented in the 2009 film, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story. Their last original score was for Disney's The Tigger Movie in 2000, and both Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were adapted for the stage. The Sherman brothers were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1976.

Robert Sherman died in 2012 at the age of 86.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.
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