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Disney composer Richard Sherman dies at 95


Richard Sherman, who, along with his brother, Robert, wrote dozens of classic songs for Walt Disney Studios, has died at the age of 95. The Sherman Brothers won two academy awards for their music for "Mary Poppins," and their songs have echoed in Disney movies and theme park rides for more than 50 years. Tim Greiving has this remembrance.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: The Sherman Brothers were, essentially, the court composers of the Disney empire, and Walt Disney was so proud of them, he introduced them on camera to help promote the New York World's Fair in 1964.


RICHARD SHERMAN AND ROBERT SHERMAN: (Singing) There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow just a dream away.

WALT DISNEY: Well, it sounds pretty good. In fact, that's just the right spirit. Our songwriters, Dick and Bob Sherman of the Walt Disney Studio.

GREIVING: Disney hand-picked them as the studio's first-ever staff songwriters four years earlier, and they wrote hundreds of songs for Disney films and tunes that played on a loop in Disneyland and its sister parks, like this little ditty.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) It's a small world after all. It's a small world after all.

GREIVING: Robert Sherman, the older brother, was a lyricist, and Richard Sherman sat at the piano and came up with the tunes, as he told me in 2011.


RICHARD SHERMAN: We discuss the reason for the song, when it takes place, what era, what time. Who's the person that's singing it? What's the attitude at the time? All these things - and there are little buzzers that go off in your head. So then you just sort of start flowing, and words start flowing back and forth. And many times, composers write first, and then a guy comes and lyricizes afterwards. In our case, we always did it simultaneously.

GREIVING: Richard and Robert Sherman were born in New York City. Their father, Al, was a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who had a few hits of his own as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter. Richard got a music degree from Bard College and wanted to write symphonies, and his brother Robert wanted to write the great American novel. But their father dared them to combine their talents to see if they could write a hit song together, so they did.


GENE AUTRY: (Singing) Gold can buy most anything, anything but love, true love, true love.

GREIVING: Country star Gene Autry recorded the Sherman's very first collaboration. "Gold Can Buy You Anything (But Love)." And before too long, Walt Disney was commissioning songs from them for different movies, including this one from "The Parent Trap" about identical twins.


HAYLEY MILLS: (As character, singing) Let's get together. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Why don't you and I come by? Let's get together. What do you say?

GREIVING: It was sung by a reluctant Hayley Mills.

MILLS: I said, I'm not a singer. I can't sing. And Richard said, well, you're an actress, aren't you? Act it.

GREIVING: Mills got to know the Sherman Brothers when she was a child star at Disney.

MILLS: Richard was much more a extrovert, much more outgoing. And Bob was always quieter, and it was as if that Richard was on the front foot, and Bob was on the back foot. They made a very good yin-yang.

GREIVING: The brothers as different personalities were captured in the 2013 movie "Saving Mr. Banks" about the making of "Mary Poppins." Actor Jason Schwartzman played Richard and got some tips from his real-life character.

JASON SCHWARTZMAN: You know, he said, if my brother and I were at a party, and there was a piano, people would say, oh, Richard, you should get on the piano. Play. Play. And I would get on the piano, and I would play, and my brother would be in a corner reading a book.

GREIVING: "Mary Poppins" proved to be the Shermans' big break, and they created some of their most enduring songs for the movie.


JULIE ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins, singing) A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go down, medicine go down.

GREIVING: Richard said Walt Disney's favorite song was the gentle lullaby "Feed The Birds," which he often called Richard into his office to play for him.


ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Come feed the little birds. Show them you care. And you'll be glad if you do.

GREIVING: The Shermans continued collaborating on songs for Disney into the new millennium. They also wrote for other studios, eventually composing more than 900 songs, but it was their work for Walt that will echo for generations to come.


DISNEY: Thanks, boys. Say goodbye to the folks.

RICHARD SHERMAN AND ROBERT SHERMAN: (Singing) There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow.

DISNEY: As I said, that's the spirit.

GREIVING: For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving in Los Angeles.


REX ALLEN: There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow shining... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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