WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Disney teens have been molding pop music far longer than you knew.
By Paul Christian Vasquez
Disney’s decades of success in both films and theme parks hinges, in large part, on how they use music. From the revolutionary synchronized sound of Steamboat Willie to the ear worms of Frozen, music has always provided a backbone to Disney projects, setting a mood and giving the audience something to take away. And long before Elsa sang her first high note, there was one prolific songwriting team at the core of Disney’s musical workshop: the Sherman Brothers.
Richard and Robert Sherman are responsible for the most memorable songs from Disney’s most creative period. They won two Oscars for their score and the original song “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins and scored The Jungle Book. They wrote the tunes for classic theme park attractions such as It’s a Small World and the Enchanted Tiki Room (talk about ear worms). Their music is all over the studio’s animated and live-action films and television shows throughout the 1960s. Yet none of it would have happened if it wasn’t for a certain Mouseketeer.
Uncle Walt convinced her to work with a studio sound wizard to create the “Annette Sound.”
Everyone had their favorite on the 1950s smash TV show The Mickey Mouse Club, but the most popular of all the Mouseketeers was Annette Funicello. Handpicked by Mr. Disney himself, Funicello received thousands of letters a week and was soon given her own serial, Walt Disney Presents: Annette. When she sang a little ditty during a hayride, every kid in the audience wanted their own copy of “How Will I Know My Love,” released on the newly launched Disneyland Records label. Funicello was skeptical of her singing abilities, but Uncle Walt convinced her to work with studio sound wizard Salvatore “Tutti” Camarata, who went on to create the “Annette Sound” by double tracking her voice, a practice common in music today.
We lost Robert Sherman in 2012, and then Annette Funicello in 2013.
This is right about where the Sherman Brothers come in. Funicello covered their tune “Tall Paul” in 1959, and it became a runaway hit, breaking the Billboard top 10. It caught Walt Disney’s attention, and he soon met with the Shermans and made them staff songwriters at the studio, working directly for him. Their first assignment from their new boss was to deliver a catchy song for The Horsemasters, Funicello’s 1961 made-for-TV movie. They delivered “Strummin’ Song.” Robert Sherman remembered Disney’s reaction in a 1996 interview with Bill DeMain: “He said, ‘Yeah, that’ll work.’ Now we didn’t know at that time that that’s the nicest thing that Walt Disney ever said about anything (laughs). That was his way of complimenting you.”
Although the scale of their projects grew exponentially, the Sherman Brothers continued writing dozens of songs for Annette, including “Pineapple Princess,” which was introduced to a new generation of fans in Lilo & Stitch. As she grew up, Funicello drifted from the Disney studio to star in her signature beach movies, but the Sherman Brothers stayed on to build the Disney canon. And through it all, they credited Funicello, calling her “our lucky star.”
Try to stop singing the trio’s title song for The Monkey’s Uncle (with The Beach Boys on backup!), and then watch Walt Disney introduce Funicello singing the Sherman Brothers song “Dance Annette” live at Disneyland.
- Paul Christian VasquezContact Paul Christian Vasquez