Composer Frank Churchill is best known for his work on many of Walt Disney's early animated classics, contributing some of the best-loved songs in the company's catalog.
Churchill was born in Rumford, ME, on October 20, 1901, and attended college in California. A pianist as well as a composer, he initially made his living by performing in movie theaters and on radio, also spending some time in Mexico. He was hired by Walt Disney in the early '30s following the departure of house composer Carl Stalling, and began composing music for the company's Silly Symphonies animated shorts. In 1933, Churchill composed "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" for the Three Little Pigs short (with additional lyrics by Ann Ronell). The song struck a chord in the midst of the Great Depression, and became the Disney company's first hit, selling loads of sheet music and inspiring numerous recordings. Churchill's success helped change the company's thinking about the way music was used in its cartoons, setting them on a road where popular songs became an important part of the overall business plan. Over the next few years, Churchill continued to compose songs and instrumental music for the Silly Symphonies cartoons, and although he didn't yet duplicate the success of "Who's Afraid," several tunes were at least recorded by outside orchestras. Churchill was next paired with lyricist Larry Morey to work on music for Disney's first full-length feature, 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Disney's stipulation was that, much like the Silly Symphonies, the songs were not simply to be showcased -- they had to stem naturally from the characters, or be integrated into the story. Churchill and Morey's groundbreaking work included the classics "Heigh Ho," "Whistle While You Work," "Someday My Prince Will Come," and "I'm Wishing," four of the eight songs used in the movie and the 25 written for it overall. Additionally, Churchill co-composed the instrumental score with Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith, and it earned an Oscar nomination. Churchill subsequently worked on the much-delayed Peter Pan before switching over to Dumbo, which was released in 1941. Churchill co-wrote most of the songs with lyricist Ned Washington, including the Oscar-nominated "Baby Mine" and the bizarre "Pink Elephants on Parade," and his instrumental score, co-written with Oliver Wallace, won the Oscar for Best Score. Churchill reteamed with Larry Morey for 1942's acclaimed Bambi, which featured "Little April Shower" and the Oscar-nominated "Love Is a Song," among others; plus, his score with Edward Plumb earned yet another Oscar nomination. Sadly, after completing work on Bambi, Churchill committed suicide in Castaic, CA, on May 14, 1942; he was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, near Hollywood. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi