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Jeffrey Sherman shares the story behind 'Mary Poppins' song 'A Spoonful of Sugar'

The popular song still resonates in today's COVID-19 era in a surprising way.
Julie Andrews, Matthew Garber and Karen Dotrice in 1964's "Mary Poppins."Alamy Stock Photo / Walt Disney
/ Source: TODAY

"A Spoonful of Sugar" from "Mary Poppins" is one of the most beloved Disney songs of all time and the story behind the catchy tune has never been more relevant.

This week, the son of one of the songwriters shared how the upbeat song came to be featured in the 1964 movie starring Julie Andrews.

Writer, producer and director Jeffrey Sherman tweeted on Thursday that "A Spoonful of Sugar" was composed by his father and uncle, Robert and Richard Sherman, who later became known as the Sherman Brothers.

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Richard Sherman, Jeffrey Sherman and Robert Sherman pose for a photo.Jeffrey Sherman

"When I was a kid we got the polio vaccine," Sherman began. "My dad, working on Mary Poppins, asked how my day was. I told him about the vaccine. 'Didn’t it hurt? I said they put it on a sugar cube and you ate it. He called my uncle Dick and the next day they wrote 'A Spoonful of Sugar.'

"My little corner of film music history," Sherman wrote in a follow-up tweet. "When the Covid vaccine arrives, get it. We’re codependent in this small world. Trust science and doctors. We will beat this enemy if we listen to those who know. Be safe. Wear a mask. Be considerate to your fellow man."

Twitter users were clearly moved by the parallels between the song's origins and the coronavirus vaccine, which some people have said they would be skeptical of taking.

"I will be singing 'A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down...the medicine go down' probably for the next week! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story!" one commented.

Another added, "As a musician and doctor I thank you for your message."

Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, known as the Sherman Brothers, were hired to write songs for Walt Disney.Jeffrey Sherman / Jeffrey Sherman

Sherman remembered his father and uncle fondly. "My late dad, Robert Sherman was half of the Sherman Brothers songwriting team that penned the scores for more than fifty movie song scores, Disney theme parks and stage musicals," he told TODAY. "As we showed in our feature documentary for Disney Studios, 'The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story' they were hired by Walt Disney himself to be his first and only staff songwriters."

Sherman said that his dad and uncle were given P.L. Travers' original "Mary Poppins" book and asked to sketch out songs from the chapters.

"'Spoonful' came to be after Dad and Dick saw Julie Andrews on the Ed Sullivan Show performing numbers from 'Camelot.' They suggested her and Walt flew out to New York to see a performance and asked her to fly to L.A. to meet 'the boys' and see the storyboards for 'Mary Poppins.'

"Julie met with the creatives and dad and Dick played her the songs. She loved them, save for their favorite song, 'Through the Eyes of Love.' She told Walt she loved everything but that one, so Walt Disney told my dad and uncle to come up with something more 'Mary Poppins.' They tried to find a catch phrase like 'A stitch in time saves nine,' but nothing was clicking.

Actor Julie Andrews starred as the nanny Mary Poppins, in the 1964 movie of the same name. She holds a robin in her hand in a scene from the film.Mondadori Portfolio / Mondadori via Getty Images

The songwriters had a hit a wall and Sherman recalled, "Dad was depressed by this, came home very early. I was surprised to find him home before 5:30 with the curtains all drawn. He asked me how my day was. I told him that at school they had given us the polio vaccine. I was big for my age and notorious for pushing over the tray of hypodermics my doctor’s nurse brought in. I would often run out and hide a couple of blocks away. My dad was surprised I let someone give me a shot at school. 'Didn’t it hurt?' he asked.

"I responded, 'No. They dropped the medicine in a sugar cube and you just ate it.'"

The Sherman brothers became legendary songwriters in a career that spanned over five decades.Jeffrey Sherman

Sherman continued, "Dad stared at me a long time, and then said, 'thank you,' and went to the phone to call my uncle. The next day they wrote, 'A Spoonful of Sugar' (helps the medicine go down)."

Sherman said that the COVID-19 vaccine inspired him to tweet about the history of the song.

"I wrote my tweet yesterday after hearing on the news that there were fears that even if an efficacious vaccine or vaccines were offered here, too many people wouldn’t trust it."

Sherman, who said he usually tweets or posts on Facebook pictures of his dogs or new granddaughter was shocked by the response to his story.

"I honestly didn't anticipate they would go viral" he said of the tweets. "I just want to do what I can to instill that we all are in this together, that we must trust scientists, immunologists and doctors to lead us through this dark time. I thought by posting what I did about that song and its background regarding the polio vaccine, I might change a few minds."

Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman won the Academy Award for best original score for "Mary Poppins" in 1965.Jeffrey Sherman

Sherman said that he wears a mask anytime he leaves his house and hopes others will be moved by the story behind the Sherman Brothers' famous song and do the same.

"It’s my honor to honor my dad and uncle and to do what I can to aid this wonderful small world we share," he said.