For the Sherman Brothers, music was in their DNA. It all started with their father Al Sherman who was a songwriter who found success on Manhattan's Tin Pan Alley. In fact, it was their father who challenged them to try songwriting in the 1950s, a challenge that would change their lives and the face of music forever when they collaborated with Walt Disney.
They first came to the attention of Walt Disney with their hit, "Tall Paul" which first featured Mouseketeer Judy Harriet as lead vocalist but was then covered by another Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello. Disney recognized their immense talent and skill and invited them to become staff songwriters for his studio. According to the book, "Walt's Time: From Before and Beyond" by Robert M. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, their standard reply to everything Disney asked of them was "Of course we can." No matter what, they always succeeded.
They not only created music for Disney films, but also for Disneyland and Disney World attractions. In 1964, the Sherman Brothers worked closely with Walt for the New York World's Fair where Disney had two pavilions. The first was located in the GE pavilion and it was called "The Carousel of Progress." The main attraction's song "It's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" was composed in inspiration to Walt's view of the future. He maintained that the future was bright, exciting and open to all possibilities. In Disney World, at the "The Carousel of Progress" attraction, a brief video of Walt Disney with the Sherman Brothers is played on television sets to entertain and enlighten the queue area before guests enter the ride. The attraction holds the record as the longest-running stage show and it is the only attraction in Walt Disney World that has a direct link to Disney.
The second pavilion was "It's a Small World" for the UNICEF pavilion. At first, the working title for the song was "Children of the World". Initially, Walt wanted a slow ballad with all of the children singing in their native tongues in their own country's anthems. When the Sherman Brothers presented the song to Walt, decided against it, mainly because the song was terrible. After Walt showed them a scaled model of the attraction, he was able to articulate his idea better by saying, "I need one song that can easily be translated into many languages and be played as a rondeau." A rondeau means "in the round." They reworked the song and came back with "It's a Small World (After All)" which is now a part of the "It's a Small World" attraction in both Disney World and Disneyland.
After their two-time Academy Award win for "Mary Poppins" (1965), the brothers would be expected to be in Walt's office every Friday afternoon at 3 o'clock. "Play it," would be all Disney would say and the brothers knew to play "Feed the Birds" which was Disney's favorite song. After Walt passed away, the brothers would still arrive at his office on Fridays and play it in his memory.
Two years later, the brothers received their first non-Disney project was for "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968). Coincidentally, this film has always been mistakened for being a Disney production. It is presumed that it was the ingredients of the picture that made it Disney-fied the star Dick Van Dyke and the music setting an overall tone of wholesome family entertainment.
In 2009, a documentary film about their life was released by Walt Disney Pictures called, "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story." The film was directed and produced by their sons, Gregory V. Sherman and Jeff Sherman. Although Robert Sherman passed away in 2012, wherever their music is played the Sherman Brothers' legacy continues to live on through their contribution to Disney attractions and films.