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Touching a Heart

Posted on Friday, March 29, 2024
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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5 Comments
the Sherman Brothers' touching the hearts of generations
Left to right: Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman

There is goodness in touching a heart. Few acts in life are as important as touching another human heart – reaching through the void that separates us, causes us to minimize, trivialize, or imagine we cannot do it, to find shared humanness. Two brothers did that – often. One died 12 years ago this month; the other thrives today. Both were musicians – and composers.

More incredibly, you know these brothers, I guarantee it. You do not think you do, but you do. They have touched your heart, given you a gift, left you with a sense that you were not alone, that you are understood in some distant, inarticulable way, perhaps even loved.

How can this be true? And why bother with goodness, small points of light, when we have a wicked world to worry about? Why waste space on common bonds, when the world is fraying?

Ah, but you answer your own question. The time for recalling how important we are to each other, the power of just one kind word or harmonious note to lift a leaden heart, is enormous – and most needed when missing, as now.

So, who are these mysterious brothers? Well, for starters, they were not the Wright Brothers or Brothers Karamazov. They were two of Walt Disney’s favorites, songwriters who brought his movies to life.  Born in America, they were Russian Jewish immigrants, their parents refugees.

Robert was born in 1925, and Richard in 1928, both in New York – which means their parents fled in “the first wave,” escaping the Bolshevik Revolution. Stalin was Communist Party General Secretary in 1922, and would kill 10 million – the ultimate communist.

On a lighter note, these talented brothers – perhaps wishing to lift a tilting world – had a gift for humor and pathos, feeling what others felt and miraculously translating it into songs.

How powerful was their intuition? Well, do you remember Mary Poppins? What moved you about the film? Do you recall “Feed the Birds Tuppence a Day” – sung by Julie Andrews – and the “Bird Lady” in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a chance for charity to be shown in a busy world?

That song, by all accounts, was Walt Disney’s favorite of all time. On occasion, when he got older, he would ask one of the brothers to come by to his office and play it. He said on one occasion, looking out his big window, “This is what it is all about, isn’t it, charity …”

But they did more than create an “anyone can feel it” moment, reflecting the charity shown by Mary Poppins to the Banks family, giving heart to children who needed to know life is not all hard, can contain love, teaching the parents a truth that spreads to the bank, love over greed.

These two brothers were the embodiment of their songs – which somehow reaching through the fog to grab listeners, including Disney. “Feed the Birds” is also sung first by Julie Andrews looking into a small snow globe, teaching the children about the lady, before they ever meet her.

How fitting that the real lady, the “bird lady,” was in her 80s when asked by Walt Disney to play the role in Mary Poppins. She declined, saying she was too old, and already in assisted living. Disney went to her, sat with her, and said she was perfect. Moved, Jane Darwell agreed – did it. Disney was overjoyed, as he had always loved her – this retired actress – and felt she fit the song.

But what else did these brothers write? Do you recall “Chim-Chim Chiree” with the nimble chimneysweeps led by Dick Van Dyke, which was also from Mary Poppins – an Oscar winner? That was theirs. So was “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the same movie.

Then they wrote “It’s a Small World (After All),” which has become the most performed song of all time, reminding us we have more in common than we know, and should see it, grow, not fracture.

They wrote for dozens of Disney movies with heart. Theirs is the music for Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, Sword and the Stone, Jungle Book, The Bare Necessities, Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh, and There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.

They wrote the music for Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, The Aristocrats, Snoopy Come Home, The Parent Trap, and The Tigger Movie – and the lead song “Your Heart Will Lead You Home,” performed by Kenny Logins. For pop, they wrote You’re Sixteen, Pineapple Princess, and Let’s Get Together, performed by Ringo Starr.

So, here is the moral. Two grateful brothers, Robert and Richard Sherman, gave their hearts to us. They were inspired – felt lucky and wanted to share it. Disney thought they were a treasure.

While Richard continues to write at 96, Robert passed in 2012. There is a spiritual element to their reaching out, too. When a statue of Disney holding hands with Mickey Mouse was dedicated, Richard was present.

He recounted that, as it was Walt’s favorite song, he rose and played “Feed the Birds,” “just for him.” Those present were stunned, because “towards the end … out of the blue sky, one bird flew down where he was playing … then returned into the clouds.” Make of that what you will, but there is goodness in touching another heart. The Sherman brothers knew it, and we do.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Max
Max
15 days ago

RBC, thank you for an enlightening article. Have a great weekend.

Melinda
Melinda
15 days ago

Thank goodness for those who bring light to the world! Most of us can’t reach that many people, but we can all light up our little corner of our world with small deeds. At least give someone your smile if they don’t have one.

anna hubert
anna hubert
15 days ago

What a lovely story and what was lost when George Gershwin died

Garyk
Garyk
14 days ago

RBC, a Great article. Thanks for always finding some special ,and too frequently forgotten reminder that reflects the true heart of people. Despite all the negativity, stress and anger we see daily, love and compassion still rule Our world.
Thank You for a gentle nudge to return our thoughts to what really matters.

rajaspin
rajaspin
14 days ago

I love how the article connects the topic to broader themes in society.

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