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Tag Archives: Composer

October 30

October 30, 1906 – Composer and Disney Legend Paul Smith is Born

On October 30, 1906, composer Paul Smith was born in Calument, Michigan to a musical family. The family later moved to Caldwell, Idaho, where Smith’s father taught music at the College of Idaho. Smith’s musical ability emerged at an early age, and his father nurtured this by teaching his son to play a variety of instruments, including piano and violin. Smith enrolled in the Bush Conservatory of Music in Chicago in 1925; after graduation, he taught at Elmhurst College and York High School. He then moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA and earned a degree in English. After graduating, he wound up at the Walt Disney Studios in 1934, and became a pioneer in music for motion pictures, scoring for animated features such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella, True-Life Adventure films such as The Vanishing Prairie and Perri, and live action features such as The Shaggy Dog and Pollyanna. Smith had over fifty credits to his name, and over the course of his career he scored eight Academy Award nominations, including one win for his work on the score of the film Pinocchio with Leigh Harline and Ned Washington. Smith retired in 1962 after almost thirty years with The Walt Disney Studios. On January 25, 1985, Smith passed away in Glendale, California. He was honored as a Disney Legend for his contributions to the Walt Disney Company in 1994.

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October 1

October 1, 1911 – Conductor, Orchestrator, and Disney Legend Irwin Kostal is Born

Irwin Kostal

“Believe it or not, we do have the liberty of changing details, even orchestration, here and there. We also can play a little with the beat, making stresses coincide even more accurately with what we see on the screen.”

On October 1, 1911, Irwin Kostal was born in Chicago, Illinois. He demonstrated great musical prowess at an early age, and decided not to go to college in favor of studying scores at his local library; he felt he could learn more by himself than not find what he wanted in school. His first paying job was for the NBC radio program Design for Listening, as a staff arranger. He moved to New York where he worked on several shows, including Your Show of Shows, The Gary Moore Show, and later The Julie Andrews Show where he would receive an Emmy nomination. In the 1960s, Kostal found fame on Broadway, working on such shows as West Side Story and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His work on West Side Story brought him to Hollywood to work on the film version of the show, which in turn led him to work on the classic Disney film Mary Poppins. For Disney, Kostal would score several projects, including Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and the re-recording for Fantasia in 1982. In his career, he was awarded with two Academy Awards: one for West Side of Story, and one for The Sound of Music. Kostal passed away in 1994 at the age of 83. In 2004, he was named a Disney Legend for his work on composing and orchestrating for Disney.

August 6

August 6, 1887 – Composer and Disney Legend Oliver Wallace is Born

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On August 6, 1887, Oliver George Wallace was born in London, England. In 1904, he moved to the United States and started work as a conductor in theaters and as an organist for silent films. In 1936, Wallace was hired by the Disney Studios and composed more than 100 short films, which included the 1942 Donald Duck short Der Fuehrer’s Face. Wallace would also work on several of Disney’s animated films, winning an Academy Award for Dumbo, along with Frank Churchill. Wallace would also compose for Fun and Fancy Free, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. After the studio moved into live-action feature films, Wallace would work on scoring several of these, including Darby O’Gill and the Little People; Wallace would also move into scoring several of the True Life Adventures documentaries. He continued to work until his death in 1963. Wallace was named a Disney Legend in 2008.

July 22

July 22, 1949 – Film Composer, Songwriter, and Disney Legend Alan Menken is Born

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“He’s a very clever man, that Alan Menken. He’s like Mr. Melody. Whenever he would send in a song on Beauty and the Beast or Hunchback [of Notre Dame] or some of the Aladdin songs, you can’t get them out of your mind. There’s no antidote for them except another Alan Menken song, cause they’re so getable and singable.” – Don Hahn, Producer

On July 22, 1949, composer and songwriter Alan Irwin Menken was born in New Rochelle, New York. His parents would play records of Broadway musicals and musical theater standards in his youth, and Menken displayed musical talents at an early age, studying the piano and violin. Coming from a family of dentists, Menken went to NYU as a pre-med student. He then changed his focus to music, and began to work in clubs and write jingles, and wrote a rock ballet right after college for the Downtown Ballet Company, where he met his wife Janis. His first musical success was an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater with Howard Ashman, who would become his close songwriting partner. The two would hit it big with the 1982 Off-Broadway hit Little Shop of Horrors.

Menken (L) and songwriting partner Howard Ashman

Menken (L) and songwriting partner Howard Ashman during the accolade season for The Little Mermaid

Ashman was approached by Disney to help create the music for a new animated feature, The Little Mermaid. As Menken has said in interviews, it was his and Ashman’s job to reinvent the Disney animated feature, bringing a real sense of current musical theater trends to these Disney musical films. The Little Mermaid became the biggest hit for the studio in decades, and ushered in a whole new era for Disney, known as the Disney Renaissance. The duo was honored with two Academy Awards between them for The Little Mermaid: Best Song (“Under the Sea”) and Best Original Score. Menken and Ashman were then asked to compose for Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Unfortunately, around this time, Ashman was diagnosed with HIV, and passed away before Beauty and the Beast was released in theaters. Menken continued to be hired by the studios, working with songwriter Tim Rice to complete work for Aladdin, which also won two Academy Awards for Best Song (“A Whole New World”) and Best Original Score.

For the film Pocahontas, Menken teamed up with lyricist Stephen Schwartz, once again winning two Academy Awards for its music. Menken continued to work with Disney on films Hercules, Home on the Range, Newsies, Enchanted, The Shaggy Dog, and Tangled. He has also moved back to Broadway, helping bring to the stage some of these Disney hits, including Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid; he has also contributed to the stage shows featured at the Disney parks. Over the course of his career, Menken has won eight Academy Awards, holding the record for most wins for any living person. In 2001, Menken was named a Disney Legend.

May 26

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May 26, 2009 – The Compilation Album Disney Pixar Greatest is Released Through Walt Disney Records

Disney Pixar Greatest

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you, we stick together, we can see it through ‘cause you’ve got a friend in me, yeah, you’ve got a friend in me.”

On May 26, 2009, the compilation album Disney Pixar Greatest was released through Walt Disney Records. The album contains a mix of songs and scores from the Pixar films released through 2009, ending with Up. The scores, composed by Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, and Michael Giacchino, are recognizable pieces from the films, including Randy Newman’s “The Scare Floor” from Monsters, Inc., Thomas Newman’s “Define Dancing” from WALL-E, and Michael Giacchino’s “Carl Goes Up” from Up.

January 4

January 4, 1918 – Composer and Disney Legend Norman “Buddy” Baker is Born

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“During the 28 years I worked at the Studio, Walt never came to a recording. He had confidence in me and everyone else. He trusted his people. He also knew what kind of music worked – not the notes, the kind.”

On January 4, 1918, Norman Baker was born in Springfield, Missouri. He earned his Doctorate in music at Southwest Baptist University, and was brought to the Disney Studios in 1954 by staff composer George Bruns. Bruns asked Baker to help compose for the new Disney anthology serial Davy Crockett. Baker would stay at the studio, composing for nearly 50 films, including The Fox and The Hound and Donald in Mathmagic Land. Baker kept contributing to Disney’s television ventures, but was eventually tapped to help with the musical scores of the attractions at the 1964 World’s Fair, particularly Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the Carousel of Progress. With X Atencio, Baker would write the popular tune “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” heard at the Haunted Mansion. He then became the musical director for EPCOT, composing for the Future World pavilions and the World Showcase, including Innoventions, Impressions de France, and Adventure Thru Inner Space. In 1983, Baker retired from the studio, as one of the last staff composers on contract for a major Hollywood studio. He continued to score for Disney attractions, and was named a Disney Legend in 1998. Baker passed away on July 26, 2002.

November 28

November 28, 1943 – Composer and Disney Legend Randy Newman is Born

Image credit: randynewman.com

“I’ve always admired Carl Stalling and the other composers who specialized in music for cartoons, and I wanted to do one myself.”

On November 28, 1943, composer Randall Stuart Newman was born in Los Angeles, California. As a child, he and his family lived in New Orleans until they moved back to Los Angeles when he was 11. Newman came from a noted musical family; three uncles were Hollywood film-score composers: Alfred Newman, Lionel Newman, and Emil Newman. Randy became a professional songwriter at the age of 17, and in 1962, he released his first single, “Golden Gridiron Boy.” The single did poorly, and Newman decided to concentrate on songwriting and arranging instead of performing. His big break came as the B-side to The Fleetwoods’ hit single “Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day,” with a song titled “They Tell Me It’s Summer.” In 1970, Newman had a critical success with his sophomore album 12 Songs; in 1977, he scored a hit with the unlikely song, “Short People.”

Newman began his work with Disney and Pixar when Disney tapped him to compose the film Toy Story. He wrote the hit song, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” for the film. His success with the film led to other animation composing jobs for Disney/Pixar, including James and the Giant Peach, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Cars, and The Princess and the Frog. He was nominated for, and won, an Academy Award for the song “If I Didn’t Have You” for the film Monsters, Inc.; and won the Academy Award for the song “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3.He has earned at least one Oscar nomination for each animated film he has worked on. Newman was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2007.