Robert B. Sherman, one half of the 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 (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 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 50-year career as a songwriting team, they garnered nine Oscar nominations; won three Grammy's; were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; received an array of 24 gold and platinum albums; got National Medal of Arts pined on their chests and got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They were the subject of a 2009 documentary, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story.
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.”
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.”
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,” and “Potatoes are Cheaper, Tomatoes are Cheaper (Now’s the Time to Fall in Love!)” His father was instrumental in teaming the brothers together.
After a series of fits and starts they 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).
In December 1960, they 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 Ringo Starr in 1974. It was this tune and their work with Annette Funicello that caught the attention of Walt Disney himself and he quickly hired them as staff songwriters for his studio in 1960.
The brothers got stuck in and produced music for Disney's Zorro, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Parent Trap, In Search of the Castaways, Summer Magic (their first film musical) and The Sword in the Stone (their first animated feature).
In 1964, the Sherman brothers began work on what they affectionately refer to as their “magnum opus,” the 1964 musical film fantasy Mary Poppins. The remainder of the 1960s and early 70s saw the Sherman brothers contributing popular songs and scores to numerous Disney films like, That Darn Cat! (1965), Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).
The 1970's saw the brothers leave Disney to pursue other film projects. Composing music, writing songs and occasional screenplays for the likes of 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 1999, the brothers released their autobiographical book - Walt’s Time: From Before to Beyond. The family album-style book chronicled their career(s) from childhood onwards using personal recollections and rarely seen family photos.
The following year they scored the animated Winnie the Pooh film—The Tigger Movie. For the film’s keynote song “Your Heart Will Lead You Home,” they shared composing credits with famed pop star Kenny Loggins.
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 film and is currently playing to packed theaters on Broadway and on tour across North America and Australia.
In April 2002, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened to acclaim at the London Palladium. And is still on tour throughout USA and the UK. The sun never sets on a Sherman Brothers song—their tunes are heard daily at Disney Park's around the world.
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.
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.