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The Record

Disney Songwriter Robert Sherman Has Died

Originally published on Wed March 7, 2012 1:33 pm

Robert Sherman — one half of the songwriting team behind Disney movies and major hit musicals — has died. He was 86. The Oscar-winning Sherman Brothers, Robert and Richard, wrote some of the most enduring Disney songs of all time. Their output was astounding: Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Aristocats.

John Lasseter, of Pixar and Disney, once said, "You cannot forget a Sherman brothers song for your life."

Robert and Richard Sherman apparently didn't always get along, but professionally they were in sync. "There was no sibling rivalry when it came to writing," said Robert. In an interview with reporter Jeff Lunden, the brothers talked about the inspiration behind one of their most famous songs. Robert's son had just been given the polio vaccine.

"I said, 'Oh, did it hurt?' " Robert remembered. "He said, 'Oh, no — they just put some medicine on a lump of sugar and you eat it. Nothin'.' "

A lump of sugar.

"Next day," said Richard, "he came into the office and he said, 'I think I've got a title.' I said, 'What is it?' 'Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down.' I said, 'That is the worst thing I have ever heard in my life!' Of course, I snapped out of it right away. I said, 'No, no, no, it's absolutely fantastic, it's great, it's great, let's do that!' "

The Sherman Brothers were self-described Anglophiles, which might explain why their music and lyrics worked so well in stories set in England. They studied classical music when they were young. Their mother was an actress, and their father was a popular songwriter. He once told his sons the rule of the "Three S's": Keep it singable, simple and sincere. Boy, did they listen.

Robert Sherman died in London. He is survived by his younger brother Richard and four children.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In this final story of the hour, you'll hear songs you likely know by heart. What you might not know is that they were all written by the same team of brothers. Robert and Richard Sherman composed some of the most enduring Disney songs of all time, from "Mary Poppins," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Winnie the Pooh."

Robert Sherman died yesterday. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: John Lasseter of Pixar and Disney once said, you can not forget a Sherman brothers' song for your life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS")

JULIE ANDREWS: (as Mary Poppins) (Singing) It's supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG")

DICK VAN DYKE & SALLY ANN HOWES: (as Caractacus Potts and Truly Scrumptious) (Singing) Oh, you, pretty chitty bang bang, chitty chitty bang bang, we love you. And...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINNIE THE POOH")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) He's Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL")

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

BLAIR: Robert and Richard Sherman apparently didn't always get along, but professionally, they were in synch. Robert said there was no sibling rivalry when it came to writing.

In an interview with reporter Jeff London, the brothers talked about the inspiration behind one of their most famous songs. Robert's son had just been given the polio vaccine.

ROBERT SHERMAN: I said, oh, did it hurt? He said, oh, no, they just put some medicine on a lump of sugar and you eat it. Nothing.

BLAIR: A lump of sugar.

RICHARD SHERMAN: Next day, he came into the office and he said, I think I got a title. I said, what is it? "Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down." I said, that is the worst thing I have ever heard in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPOONFUL OF SUGAR")

ANDREWS: (as Mary Poppins) (Singing) A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

SHERMAN: Of course, I snapped out of it right away. I said, no, no, no. It's absolutely fantastic. It's great, it's great. Let's do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPOONFUL OF SUGAR")

ANDREWS: (as Mary Poppins) (Singing) Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in a most delightful way.

BLAIR: The Sherman brothers were self-described Anglophiles, which might explain why their music and lyrics work so well in stories set in England. They studied classical music when they were young. Their mother was an actress and their father was a popular songwriter. He once told his sons the rule of the three Ss. Keep it singable, simple and sincere. Boy, did they listen.

Robert Sherman died in London. He was 86. He is survived by his younger brother Richard and four children. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHIM CHIM CHEREE")

DICK VAN DYKE: (Singing) Chim chimney, chim chimney, chim chim cheree. A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be. Chim chimney, chim chimney, chim chim cheroo. Good luck will rub off when I shakes hands with you. Oh, blow me a kiss and that's lucky, too. Now as the ladder of life has been strung, you might think a sweep's on the bottommost rung. Though I spends me time in me ashes and smoke, in this whole wide world, there's no happier bloke. Chim chimney, chim chimney, chim chim cheree. A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be. Chim chimney, chim chimney... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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