“Prior to...Mary Poppins, songwriting brothers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman were best-known for the Top Ten hits ‘Tall Paul’ by Annette Funicello and ‘You’re Sixteen’ by Johnny Burnette. Mary Poppins changed all that. It won the brothers Academy Awards for best original musical score and best song – for Chim Chim Cher-Ee – and the soundtrack album won them a Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Show, as well as winning Best Recording for Children” (Ruhlmann).
“The album also topped the Billboard LP chart for 14 weeks and reportedly sold 2.3 million copies in its first year of release. Of course, all this success could not be the sole result of the brothers’ writing ability, as also expressed in memorable songs like A Spoonful of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag). A great deal of it could be credited to the many unnamed talents at the Disney studio” (Ruhlmann) and “an excellent cast that included Johns, Tomlinson, and Ed Wynn in minor parts, and Dick Van Dyke (sporting an awful, but nevertheless entertaining Cockney accent) in a major one. Best of all, of course, was [Julie] Andrews, simultaneously warm and proper, bringing out the best in the material” (Ruhlmann). She “embodied the character of Mary Poppins so perfectly that she never really escaped it” (Ruhlmann).
The brothers had clearly paid attention to Andrews’ stage triumph My Fair Lady, and not just to learn how to craft songs for her. They wrote what might have been a new song for that show’s Henry Higgins character in Mr. Banks’ statement of purpose as a self-satisfied British male in The Life I Lead. But their primary influence was the popular music of the period in which the story was set, Edwardian England, specifically the British music hall style of the pre-World War I era. That gave them the buoyancy and glee of many of the numbers, but the wonderful melodies of songs like ‘Chim Chim Cher-Ee’ and ‘Feed the Birds’ were their own” (Ruhlmann).
“But Mary Poppins had a lot of songs for a movie musical, no less than 13 separate numbers, and they were all very good, from Mrs. Banks’ (Glynis Johns) declaration of Sister Suffragette to Mr. Banks’ (Dave Tomlinson) transfiguration, Let’s Go Fly a Kite” (Ruhlmann).