A MUSICAL DYNASTY
For the last century, members of the Sherman family have produced popular music that has entered our hearts and enriched all our lives. Who would have imagined in the 1870s that, living in the Pale, a poor peasant named Otto Sherman, insisting on his son Samuel taking violin lessons, would have led to the creation of a musical dynasty of Sherman composers and songwriters that endures until today. But small actions can sometimes yield tremendous things. Samuel Sherman (1871–1948) would go on to become the court composer and conductor for Emperor Franz Josef II of the AustroHungarian Empire between 1903 and 1909.
Born in the tiny fishing village of Stepinetz (near Kiev) in 1871, Samuel hailed from a musical family, his father, Otto, having played the clarinet. After fleeing Stepinetz in 1903, to avoid conscription into Russian Czar Nicholas II’s army, Samuel and Lena emigrated once again, this time from Prague to the new world. In 1909, the Shermans landed in America and settled in New York City. There, a teenaged Al Sherman (1897–1973) taught himself piano. Despite youth and scant knowledge of the English language, natural talent quickly earned Al a reputation as a top ‘mood music’ pianist, playing on silent movie sets. Al’s songwriting career began in earnest in 1918 while employed as a ‘song plugger’ at the Remick Music Company.
While working for Disney, they also composed what is perhaps their best-known song, “It’s a Small World (After All)”, for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. That song has subsequently become the most translated and performed song on Earth according to Time.com. In 1965 the Sherman Brothers won two Academy Awards® for Mary Poppins.
They subsequently earned nine Academy Award® nominations, two Grammy Awards®, four Grammy Award® nominations, and 23 gold and platinum albums. In 1968, the brothers began working freelance. Their first non-Disney assignment came with Albert R. Broccoli’s motion picture production Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for United Artists. Other Disney and non-Disney film credits include: The Aristocats , Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Snoopy Come Home, Tom Sawyer, Charlotte’s Web, The Slipper and the Rose, The Magic of Lassie, Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland and The Tigger Movie.
After the death of his wife, Joyce, in 2001, Robert moved from Los Angeles to London. In 2002, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened at the London Palladium. To date, Chitty is longest-running stage show ever produced at that iconic theatre. 2004 saw the London premiere of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins: The Musical. Broadway productions of both shows followed with Mary Poppins becoming the 22nd longest running show in Broadway history. In 2005, the Sherman Brothers were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, and 2008 saw the Sherman Brothers awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush. In 2010, they were presented with a window on Main Street, Disneyland. In 2012, Robert passed away in London. Richard still resides in Beverly Hills, California with his wife Elizabeth.
At Remick, Al worked alongside future songwriting greats including George Gershwin and Vincent Youmans. In 1919, Al published his first song. During the last days of vaudeville, Al and several of his fellow hit-makers formed the revue: Songwriters on Parade, performing on the Loews and Keith circuits. Throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s, Al became one of the most sought-after songwriters on Tin Pan Alley. As well as writing for major Broadway revues and motion pictures, some of his most recognisable songs include: “You Gotta Be a Football Hero”, “Now’s the Time to Fall in Love” and “Lindbergh (the Eagle of the USA)”.
The array of artists who recorded Al’s songs include Al Jolson, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Maurice Chevalier, Frank Sinatra, Kay Starr and Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra. With the birth of Al and Rosa Sherman’s two sons, Robert B. Sherman (1925–2012) and Richard M. Sherman (born 1928), so too was born one of the most enduring songwriting partnerships in all of American music history.
The brothers began writing together in 1951 on a challenge from their father. By 1958, the Sherman Brothers had their first top 10 hit with ‘Tall Paul’. The success of this song garnered the attention of Walt Disney, who eventually hired the Sherman Brothers as staff songwriters for Walt Disney Studios. The Sherman Brothers would go on to write more motion-picture musical scores than any other songwriters in the history of Hollywood.
“The Sherman Brothers would go on to write more motion-picture musical scores than any other songwriters in the history of Hollywood"
Continuing the musical dynasty into the 21st century is Robert’s youngest son, Robert J. Sherman (Robbie). At 16, Robbie became one of the youngest songwriters ever invited to join BMI and is an alum of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. At 18, he wrote songs for the musical A Christmas Held Captive (Beverly Hills Playhouse).
Subsequently, Robbie Sherman has written songs and/or scripts for various film, stage and TV productions. 2014 also saw the publication of Moose: Chapters From My Life, Robert B. Sherman’s posthumously released autobiography, which Robbie edited for his father. Robbie also produced the first incarnation of A Spoonful of Sherman as a London based tribute to his father and the Sherman Family. In 2015 his original musical, Love Birds was the hit of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, lauded by crowds and critics alike.
In 2016 his musical Bumblescratch premiered in London at the Adelphi Theatre and was a popular part of the city’s 350th anniversary commemoration of the Great Fire.
2017 saw A Spoonful of Sherman completely reworked and revamped for its 2018 UK/Ireland tour, celebrating a century of Sherman family songwriting.
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