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Robert Sherman, songwriter and storyteller

By Philip Furia


Next to George and Ira Gershwin, the only major fraternal songwriting team in the history of American popular music has been Robert and Richard Sherman. Together, the Sherman brothers wrote songs for such film musicals as Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Tom Sawyer, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats. Richard Sherman was primarily composer of the music for their songs, and Robert primarily the lyricist, but both wrote music and lyrics.

Growing up in New York and then California, the boys were encouraged in their literary and artistic activities by their father, Al Sherman, a songwriter who had written such hits as “You Gotta Be a Football Hero.” The Sherman brothers had their first major success in 1960 with a rock ’n’ roll song, “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine),” which Ringo Starr revived in 1974.

Walt Disney put them under contract to write songs for his studio’s films; the Sherman brothers were among the last songwriters in Hollywood to work exclusively for a single studio. Their most successful Disney film was Mary Poppins, which won an Oscar for best musical score and another for Best Song (“Chim Chim Cher—ee”). The most famous song from the film, however, is “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which exhibited the brothers’ verbal inventiveness.

Walt Disney, a great storyteller himself, admired the Sherman brothers work because they wrote songs that were integrally tied to the story and characters of a musical. Their most famous song, however, was written as an independent number for the 1964 New York World’s Fair — “It’s a small world (after all).”

Robert Bernard Sherman was born in New York City on December 19, 1925. He spent his last years in London, where he died, at the age of eighty-six, on March 6, 2012.

Philip Furia is a professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He is the author of The Songs of Hollywood with Laurie Patterson, Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist, and The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists.

Recent Comments

  1. DBE

    For the love. For the gorgeous music of MARY POPPINS. A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR. SUPERCALIFAGILISTIC. CHIM-CHIM-ERE,

    Thank you. Thank You. The memories are greater than Gold.
    More Valuable.

    God Bless You, Robert Sherman, for the JOY. As a child I was elated. As an adult I can’t forget.

  2. Jeff Sherman

    Hi Philip,

    I’m Robert Sherman’s son. You have one major incorrect statement on this blog which, if you would, I’d appreciate you correcting. Richard was primarily the composer at the piano, but Dad also contributed to the music. My Dad, Robert Sherman, was primarily the lyricist, but Dick contributed there, as well. As they always put it, “I write the music and the lyrics and he writes the lyrics and the music.” Having worked with them on a few projects, right in the room as their magic happened, I can tell you first hand that this is true.

    Otherwise, thank you for this lovely piece.

    Sincerely,

    Jeff Sherman

  3. Alice Northover

    @Jeff Sherman
    Thank you for the correction. We have amended the statement above. We’re great admirers of your father’s work and our heartfelt condolences go out to you and your family.
    –Blog Editor Alice

  4. Jeff Sherman

    Thank you, Alice. It’s a little thing to most, I suppose, but I really want to be sure wherever I can that Dad’s legacy is correctly conveyed.

    Best regards,

    Jeff Sherman

  5. Dennis Chandler

    As Professor Furia wrote, “Walt Disney, a great storyteller himself, admired the Sherman brothers’ work because THEY WROTE SONGS THAT WERE INTEGRALLY TIED TO THE STORY AND CHARACTERS OF A MUSICAL”.
    The songs of the Sherman Brothers had lasting effect not just on the general public but also on other songwriters. One that comes to mind now, is the late, great George David Weiss. As president of the Songwriters Guild of America, GDW toured the country doing seminars on writing. Albeit long ago I still recall with pleasure working with Mr. Weiss on one such seminar here in Cleveland. GDW used The Sherman Brothers songs as writings to emulate. These great writers and their influence will always be recalled each and every time their music is played by this musician. Their good MELODIC, MEMORABLE music will continue to serve to inspire this composer. Our condolences to the Sherman family on their loss.

    Dennis Chandler. Vice Pres.
    Local 4 – American Federation of Musicians
    Cleveland, Ohio

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