Welcome back to Through the Decades and the 1930s. Now I’m slowly moving past the Silly Symphonies and into the later years where Disney came into its own and started to look further ahead.
There were many people who were instrumental in the running of the studios and in the creation of the early works, but one man who stands out for me is Frank Churchill.
Originally born in Maine in October 1901, he and his family lived in Southern California. Having an ear for music at an early age, he won his first professional job as a pianist at 15 years’ old, accompanying silent films at a local movie theatre. However, instead of launching straight into a music career he began studying pre-med at the University of California. He didn’t last very long and soon dropped out to pursue music.
After playing in a few places across America he joined the Walt Disney Studios in December of 1930. He scored nearly 65 animated shorts but his first major success came along with Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, written for the infamous Silly Symphonies film The Three Little Pigs. Moving onto bigger projects, he wrote many of the classic songs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – “Whistle While You Work,” “Heigh-Ho,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come”. His work for the 1937 blockbuster hit earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Music Score the following year. As a result, he became the supervisor of music and worked on other upcoming features such as Dumbo and Bambi. In 1942, he received two Academy Award nominations for Dumbo including ‘Best Music’, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Song for “Baby Mine”, which he shared with fellow writer Ned Washington. A year later,
In 1942, he received two Academy Award nominations for Dumbo including ‘Best Music’, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Song for “Baby Mine”, which he shared with fellow writer Ned Washington. A year later, his work on Bambi and the ballad “Love is a Song” received similar nominations.
Though providing Disney and the public with anthems to fight the Great Depression, it didn’t help him and his own trouble with depression. After the death of his closest friends and fellow Disney orchestra members he fell into heavy drinking, and on 14th May 1942 committed suicide at his own ranch near LA. He was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, the same resting place as Walt Disney 24 years later.
There’s something to be said for Disney musicians and their ability to change the way music is used in films, particularly the animated features. Frank Churchill was the beginning of that and Disney wouldn’t have had those significant successes without his input. His songs are brilliantly written, catchy, emotive, and they continue to be some of the most played and popular today.
Thank you for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!