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When I came in from work today, Jubbers told me I'd better sit down. She knows I don't deal well with celebrity deaths, and she knows I take the deaths of the ones who meant the most to me especially hard. I've never been all that emotional when it comes to real life stuff, but music and movies can really set me off.
Robert B. Sherman was music and movies. I've been obsessed with the music he and his brother made for most of my life. "Mother Earth and Father Time," from 1973's Charlotte's Web, is the first song that ever made me cry. A kid doesn't forget a thing like that.
Many kids aren't likely to forget the songs of the Sherman Brothers--even if they don't know the Sherman Brothers by name. Consider some of the movies that featured their music: Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Snoopy Come Home, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Parent Trap, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The AristoCats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Sword in the Stone.
Robert was the duo's primary lyricist, while younger brother Richard was the primary tunesmith. The music, as memorable as it is, wouldn't be as memorable without Robert's lyrical playfulness. It really shines through in songs like "Heffalumps and Woozles," "A Most Befuddling Thing," "I Can Talk," and, of course, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
Their songs often sent me to the dictionary as a kid, which was something I appreciated. I liked to learn new things, and I was eager for entertainment that didn't pander to my limited vocabulary. Some of what I learned from their music actually managed to stick. I can say with absolute certainty, for example, that I learned the word perspicacity from "I Can Talk."
There's a magic to their music (yes, even to "It's a Small World") that has kept me coming back to it every year of my life. Just this weekend, I dragged Jubbers into yet another vocal bludgeoning of "That's What Makes the World Go Round." I'm sure to drag her into many more.
I guess this isn't much of an obituary without a life detail or two. I don't know how much other sites will have to say about his military career (he took a bullet to the knee in WWII; take that, Skyrimmers!) or his musical heritage (his father, Al, was a Tin Pan Alley legend), but I'm sure the recent documentary, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story, says it much better. If it's still available for streaming on Netflix, I recommend you watch it as soon as you get a chance.
I'll leave you with two Sherman Brothers songs you're not likely to have heard. The first is a song they did for Mary Poppins that didn't manage to make its way into the movie:
The second is "Inkas the Ramferinkas," a 10" 78 story-and-song disc they did in the fifties. (You'll need to click on the title to be redirected to the album.) They worked for years on developing Inkas into a full-length feature. With any luck, it will happen. Even if it doesn't, they've filled this small world with enough music to go round for several lifetimes.