Thursday 21 February 2013

Composing Dicks

Today we’re going to focus on two Richards who have written the soundtrack of your life. Between Sherman’s Disney stylings of your youth and Rodgers catchy musical tunes (beloved of glee clubs and grandmas everywhere), these Dicks have got you covered. When in doubt, play a Dick (or a song written by one, if you prefer).

Richard Morton Sherman was born on 12 June 1928 in New York City. By 1937, his family had settled in Beverly Hills; Richard is still in the area. I imagine it turned out to be a fortuitous move because Richard and his older brother Robert later teamed up to write songs for our favorite Disney movies.

Around 1958, the composer-songwriter duo of Richard and Robert was hired by Walt Disney (the man himself) to write songs at Walt Disney Studios. Richard’s work includes the scores to such classics as:

-The Sword in the Stone
-Mary Poppins
-The Jungle Book
-The Aristocats
-The Parent Trap
-Bedknobs and Broomsticks
-The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
-The Tigger Movie.

In addition, Richard and Robert wrote “It’s a Small World (After All)” for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. I always wondered from whence that song came! I thought maybe it was a folk tune or something. I should have known a Richard had a hand in it. All the best things come from Dicks.

Richard’s non-Disney scores include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which is based on a book by Ian Fleming, the man who created James Bond!) and Snoopy, Come Home.

Although Richard was nominated for Oscars (and other awards) a whole lot, he pretty much only ever won for Mary Poppins (and, more recently, for the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang stage musical). It’s a bit surprising he didn’t rake in more awards for his songs, but he’s gotten a bunch of Lifetime Achievement Awards, so it all evens out in the end.

Robert, Richard (playing piano), and Walt Disney singing

Richard Rodgers

Richard Charles Rodgers was born 28 June 1902 in New York City. He died on 30 December 1979, also in New York City. He wrote over 900 songs for 43 musicals, which is quite the output. Richard was well-rewarded for his composing talents: he was the first person to ever win the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). He also won a Pulitzer Prize; Richard and Marvin Hamlisch (another composer) are the only two people to have won all five of these awards. Damn!

Although Richard’s first lyrical partner was Lorenz Hart, he is most famous for being one-half of the Rodgers and Hammerstein duo. Richard and Oscar Hammerstein II’s first musical was Oklahoma! in 1943, which was … kind of a hit. Other highlights from their oeuvre are: Carousel (1945); South Pacific (1949), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; The King and I (1951); and The Sound of Music (1959). Obviously, these musicals have tons of hit songs including “Some Enchanted Evening” (in my grandma’s personal top ten), “Oklahoma!” (now the state song of Oklahoma), and “Edelweiss” (the last song Hammerstein wrote, which makes it even sadder). I also thought “Edelweiss” was a folk song. It is not, but has been sort-of adopted as one in parts of Austria (especially the Salzburg area), presumably for the benefit of tourists.

One of Richard’s songs has taken on an interesting life of its own. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel has become a sport anthem, particularly in the UK. Apparently a group called Gerry and the Pacemakers recorded a cover of the song in 1963. The lead singer had some connection to the Liverpool Football Club, showed them an early demo tape, and eventually the club adopted the song. Apparently they sing it before all the games at Anfield Stadium. In addition, the phrase “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is emblazoned above the Shankly Gates at the stadium and even appears on the club’s crest. So yeah. All those hardened football hooligans are singing along to a show tune.

And the song’s influence didn’t end there. According to an interview with Queen’s Brian May, a bunch of fans serenaded the group with the song at the end of one of their concerts. That act then helped inspire the drafting of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Wow.

Oscar died in 1960. Richard had some success on his own, although his most notable work was probably the addition of two songs for the movie version of The Sound of Music (Richard wrote both the music and lyrics to “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good”).

According to the esteemed Wikipedia, Richard and Oscar were “the most successful partnership in American musical theatre history. Their work revolutionized the form. What was once a collection of songs, dances and comic turns held together by a tenuous plot became an integrated masterpiece.” Rock on, dudes (or jazz hands on, perhaps).

Richard Rodgers

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