Tag Archive | Tin Pan Alley

Greatly Loved Disney Composers

I recently heard about the death of Robert Sherman and wondered who he was. He and his brother, Richard, composed some of the best loved Disney songs of the day.

Robert Bernard Sherman was born December 19, 1925. His brother, Richard Morton Sherman was born June 12, 1928. Their father, Al, was a well known Tin Pan Alley songwriter. The family moved a lot in their formative years. In high school the brothers both learned how to play a variety of instruments. While still in those high school years, Robert won much acclaim for the radio and stage programs he wrote and produced.

Robert and Richard Sherman with Debbie Reynolds

Robert joined the Army in 1943 while he was still seventeen. He was awarded a purple heart and it was during this time that he developed a fascination with England. Both brothers attended Bard College in New York State. Richard studied music and Robert majored in English Literature and Art. Robert served as editor for the college newspaper and wrote his first two novels while in school, before graduating in 1949.

After finishing schools the brothers went to work writing songs with their father. Richard was drafted into the Army in 1953, during the Korean War. He was not in combat, but joined the band and glee club during which time he served as their conductor. While he was in the service his brother, Robert, worked with other musicians. In 1958 the brothers founded Music World Corporation.

Their first Top Ten Hit was “Tall Paul” with Annette Funicello. Walt Disney was impressed when he heard the song and eventually hired the brothers to work with his Wonderland Music Company.

In 1965 the brothers both won an Oscar for separate films, including Mary Poppins. They won Oscars for the songs “Feed the Birds” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. They worked directly with Walt Disney until his death a year later and then freelanced their talents.

The Sherman Brothers on the Mary Poppins Set

They wrote songs for the movies: “The Jungle Book”, “The Aristocats”, both versions of “The Parent Trap”, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”, “Charlotte’s Web”, and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”. Other hits songs included “Pineapple Princess” and “Let’s Get Together”. They also wrote the song “It’s A Small World” for the Disney theme park.

In 1974 they wrote the musical “Over Here!” It became the largest grossing original Broadway Musical of the Year and was nominated for a Tony.

“The Tigger Movie” {2000} was the first Disney movie score they’d written in twenty-nine years. They also wrote the songs for the stage productions of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “Mary Poppins: The Stage Musical.”

In total the brothers earned 9 Academy Award nominations, 2 Grammy Awards, 4 Grammy Award nominations and 23 gold and platinum albums. In June 2005 they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They were bestowed honorary doctorates from Lincoln College in 1990 and Bard College in 2011.

The Sherman brothers with Walt Disney

Richard and Robert Sherman wrote more motion picture musical song scores than any other team.

Robert married Joyce Sasner and had four children. The year after her 2001 death, he moved to London, England. The brothers were able to still compose together with the use of email, the fax machine and frequent visits. Richard married Elizabeth Gluck and they had two children.

In 2002 Robert had his first exhibition for the paintings he’d been creating all his life. He wrote his autobiography “Moose” in 2008. In May 2009 a documentary was released on them called “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story”.

The brothers were presented with a Window on Mainstreet Disneyland for their contribution to Disney theme parks.
Robert died recently on March 5, 2012.


What is Tin Pan Alley?

Have you heard the term Tin Pan Alley but had no idea what it was?

The term Tin Pan Alley refers to the songwriters and publishers of the late 19th and early 20th Century. These men were all based in New York City and were originally located at West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. A plaque is now on the sidewalk in the area to commemorate it. Before their move to New York City, the publishers were scattered throughout the country.

Tin Pan Alley in the late 19th Century

Monroe Rosenfeld is believed to coin the phrase in his articles as a derogatory reference. He wrote a series of articles for the New York Herald around 1885 and referred to the constant playing of the pianos which sounded like “tin pans being beaten in the alleyway.” During this time vaudeville was replacing the minstrel show.

Over time the phrase was embraced and described the music industry in general.

Copyright was not monitored as strongly in the late 19th Century as it is today. Publishers often print their own versions of songs that were popular at that time. On June 11, 1895 a group of publishers formed the Music Publishers Association. ASCAP {American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers} was founded in 1914 and helped push it towards becoming a “mega force in popular music.”

Pin Pan Alley

Vaudeville players often visited Tin Pan Alley in search of new songs for their acts. Composers and performers kept up with the times moving from the slow moving ballads to incorporating the cakewalk music, ragtime, blues and jazz tunes.

Many of the lyrics of the day showed a happy, innocent time in small town settings.

Irving Berlin published “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911 which gave Tin Pan Alley and Berlin their “crowning achievement.” It also changed the way America listened to music.

Wikipedia says it best, “Tin Pan Alley became a melting pot for culture and musical tastes, despite racial lines, and although limitations still existed, the art of the music was still able to emerge!”

Other large name composers with Irving Berlin were Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser, Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart, Noel Coward, Gus Lahn and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Some popular songs of the day include: “After the Ball”, “Give My Regards to Broadway”, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, “God Bless America”, “The Band Played On” and “Shine On Harvest Moon.”

The end of Tin Pan Alley is not very clear. Some believe it was in the 1930s with the Great Depression. During this time the phonograph and radio crushed the sale of sheet music. Other sources believe the decline happened in the 1950s as Rock n Roll became popular and supplanted earlier styles of popular music. Truth be told it was probably a combination of both of these and the changing times.

In 1959-1960 a short lived TV series was aired that took place in Tin Pan Alley.