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Together with his younger brother, Richard, songwriter Robert B. Sherman was credited with penning some of the most beloved family-friendly tunes of all time, including the most played song ever, "It's a Small World (After All)." Born Robert Bernard Sherman on Dec. 19, 1925 in New York City, he was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants Rosa and Al Sherman, a successful Tin Pan Alley songwriter. The family eventually relocated to Los Angeles, where Robert pursued his interests in theater and music while attending school. After completing service in the US Army during WWII (during which he was one of the first American soldiers to enter the Dachau concentration camp and later earned a Purple Heart), Sherman began working as a freelance songwriter in tandem with his younger brother Richard. Together the Sherman brothers crafted popular hits like "Things I Might Have Been" and "Tall Paul" (1958), recorded by Annette Funicello. By 1960, the brothers had become associated with Walt Disney and his burgeoning empire. For just over a decade, they provided songs for a number of classic live-action and animated films, beginning with "The Absent-Minded Professor" and "The Parent Trap" (both 1961). After writing songs for the charming Arthurian cartoon "The Sword in the Stone" (1963), the Sherman brothers had their biggest success writing the melodic and infectious score for "Mary Poppins" (1964). A then-groundbreaking blend of live-action and animation, "Mary Poppins" contained several wonderful musical songs, including "A Spoonful of Sugar," the lively "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," the haunting "Feed the Birds" and the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cheree." Much of the score was a pastiche of English musical hall numbers and was skillfully delivered by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
Following this achievement, the Shermans remained at Disney for the remainder of the decade, contributing efforts to "That Darn Cat!" (1965), "The Jungle Book" (1967) and "The Aristocats" (1970). A rare non-Disney song, the title tune for United Artists' "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968), earned them an Academy Award nomination. By the time, "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971) was released, the siblings had severed their ties to Disney, though the film did earn them Oscar nominations for Best Song Score and Best Song ("The Age of Not Believing"). They renewed their affiliation with United Artists, scripting and scoring adaptations of "Tom Sawyer" (1973) and "Huckleberry Finn" (1974). Also in 1974, the Sherman brothers debuted as Broadway composers with an Andrews Sisters musical called "Over Here!" They were again nominated for Academy Awards for the lilting score and the title song from "The Slipper and the Rose" (1976). Two years later, Sherman and his brother were again among the nominees for "When You're Loved" from "The Magic of Lassie." In the years that followed, Sherman and his sibling also collaborated on the songs for such animated projects as "Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland" (1990) and "The Mighty Kong" (1998). Sherman moved to the U.K. in 2002, shortly after the passing of his wife, Joyce. Three years later, when "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" became a musical on Broadway, Robert and Richard contributed a handful of new songs. In 2008, the brothers were awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush. The following year, they were the subject of the documentary "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story" (2009), a fond remembrance of their remarkable careers. Robert Sherman passed away at the age of 86 from natural causes at his home in England on March 5, 2012. He was survived by his brother, Richard.
By Bryce Coleman
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