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Sheila Hagen, editor

Songs, Stories and Memories

A Musical Tribute to Disney Legend Norman “Buddy” Baker

Wednesday, October 1, 2003
by Sheila Hagen, staff writer

A Tribute to Norman “Buddy” Baker. Photo by Jeff Moxley.

Bing Theater, a concert hall on the University of Southern California campus, was filled to capacity for a tribute to Norman “Buddy” Baker, composer, conductor and Disney Legend. It was obvious that not only was Buddy Baker highly-regarded as a musical legend, but as a mentor, teacher and friend to many on-stage and in the audience.

The tribute was hosted by David Spear, lecturer at USC's Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television Department. The audience—consisting mainly of USC music students, Disney Studios personnel and music industry giants—was there because of their respect and admiration for the legendary Buddy Baker. Baker played an integral part in the Disney Studios empire and helped to create one of the finest film scoring schools in the United States.

The performers for this tribute were either faculty or students at the USC Thornton School of Music (all with extensive musical resumes themselves), or were colleagues and friends of Baker's in the music industry.

The opening number was a rendition of “Golden Dreams” (from American Adventure at Epcot) as performed by Bob Moline, who provided vocals and guitar. Moline, a well-known songwriter and performer of songs such as “Listen to the Land,” “Energy,” “Canada,” “Golden Dreams,” “Dream Flight” and “If You Could Fly,” had a long-standing friendship with Baker.

Bob Moline performing “Golden Dreams.” Photo by Jeff Moxley.

Following Moline was an intriguing trio of compositions for brass quartet, “Screen Theme Suite,” by veteran composer and arranger Joe Harnell, and performed by Harnell and the USC Thornton Saxophone Quartet. The suite, dedicated by Harnell to Baker, consisted of “Tango for Two Left Feet,” the “Lonely Man Theme” from the movie, “The Incredible Hulk,” and the theme from the television mini-series, V. Harnell met Baker in 1973 when he joined the faculty at the Dick Grove School of Music, a private music school in Southern California, and counted Baker as a good friend ever since.

Harnell recounted how Baker hosted a monthly luncheon in Burbank that lasted for years. In attendance would be fellow composers and friends such as Maurice Jarre, Elmer Bernstein, and other Disney composers. Baker was always supportive and encouraged his friends and young up-and-coming musicians alike.

A highlight of the tribute was a special arrangement of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” for the USC Thornton Chamber Choir. Directed by William Dehning, the piece was accompanied by the brass quartet, Yuri Inoo on percussion, and a jazz trio, featuring the legendary drummer Louis Bellson and Greg Swiller on bass. Following this piece was Bellson's own composition, Live Every Day, also performed by the USC Thornton Chamber Choir.

The USC Thornton Chamber Choir performing “Live Every Day.” Photo by Jeff Moxley.

Ending the first half of the program was a delightful jazz composition called “Buddy's Blues,” written and composed by pianist/vocalist Wini Beatty. The song was created for Baker's 80th birthday party. Beatty recounted how Charlotte Baker, Buddy's wife, handed Beatty a biography on Buddy and Beatty remarked that all she had to do was “just make it rhyme.” And holding to her promise, the song detailed Baker's entire life, from growing up in Springfield, Missouri, to his career at Disney and teacher at USC.

Beatty also told of how Buddy Baker got his nickname: his sister could not pronounce the word “brother” and the word came out as “buddy,” so the nickname stuck.

Following the intermission, the inimitable Richard Sherman took the stage and performed three songs that were ultimately arranged and orchestrated by Baker: “Wonderful World of Color,” “It's a Small World” and “Winnie the Pooh.” Sherman would first play the song on piano, and then a video presentation of the final version of each song was presented. Sherman pointed out how masterfully Baker would arrange each song, precisely matching the musical style to the scene.

Richard Sherman reminisces about Buddy Baker. Photo by Jeff Moxley.

Sherman related how Walt Disney pulled in the Sherman Brothers at the last minute to compose the tune for “It's a Small World” for the 1964 World's Fair in New York. The Sherman Brothers quickly wrote the tune, but it fell to Buddy Baker to arrange the song so that each repetition of the tune would match the featured country as the ride boats passed by.

When Baker orchestrated the “Heffalumps & Woozles” song for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1968, Baker wanted the silliest and craziest types of sounds for that sequence. Sherman suggested a kazoo in addition to other instruments like ocarinas and accordions, and Baker readily agreed. And when Richard Sherman came into help Baker re-record the score for Walt Disney World's new ride, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Baker had a kazoo ready for Sherman to play.

Following Sherman was Baker's stepson, Scott Keene, who told of his father's love of teaching and guiding young students through their musical careers. Introducing the next number, “Ode to Charlee” (with a double “ee,” he joked), Keene recalled that Baker, having written the song especially for his wife, Charlotte, called the song “the story of their life in 32 bars.” The romantic ballad was performed by faculty member Ron McCurdy (who provided vocals and trumpet solo), accompanied by David Spear on piano.

Ron McCurdy describes getting to know Buddy Baker well in a USC faculty building elevator, notorious for being rather slow. Photo by Jeff Moxley.

Adam Fields, a student of Baker's and composer for the television series, Dawson's Creek, related how Baker would walk his students to the next class and counsel them on their careers and music. He also described how Baker deftly dealt with the constantly changing requirements of movie making and composing in the corporate world of movie studios. Drawing one of the biggest laughs of the evening was the story of how he provided Baker with a famous quip for dealing with movie executives: “I'll write your film score for free, but I'll have to charge you a lot of money for the B.S.” Sure enough, when a film clip was shown later in the program of Baker accepting his ASCAP Lifetime Achievement award, Baker used this exact joke.

Next up was an excerpt from the movie The Fox and the Hound, where Spear demonstrated with the help of recent USC graduate David Dunbar, how Baker would teach young conductors how to conduct a recording session for movie scores. Using a technique known as “free time,” colored bars known as “streamers” are placed at strategic points in the rough edit of the film so the conductor knows when the next musical cue will be occurring.

Jon Burlingame, another lecturer at USC's film scoring department, provided an overview of Baker's accomplishments. Burlingame pointed out that not only did Baker create a large body of work for television and movies, but he was the innovator of how to score music for theme park attractions, creating a seamless transition from scene to scene for Disney rides, as nothing like this had ever been done before.

A video finale was then shown, featuring film clips of Roy Disney presenting the Disney Legend award to Baker in 1995; music from The Mickey Mouse Club, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, Treasure of Matecumbe, Charlie the Lonesome Cougar, and Donald in Mathmagic Land; and his acceptance of the ASCAP Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.

Closing remarks were delivered by Dr. Robert Cutietta, Dean of USC's Thornton School of Music. Cutietta relayed the poignant story of when he first accepted the position at USC. He called Baker, who was then in the hospital. Although Cutietta was uncomfortable at calling Baker, Baker still insisted on talking to Cutietta for 45 minutes, telling him how he helped build the film scoring department at USC and of his dreams and aspirations for the program. Cutietta, feeling inspired, agreed to meet with Baker again later on. Sadly, Baker died the very next day.

Following the program, a reception was held at the Alfred Newman Recital Hall Gallery, which also served to premiere the exhibit paying tribute to Baker's life and accomplishments.

The exhibit consists primarily of letters, musical scores and other memorabilia from the personal collection of Mrs. Charlotte Baker, with the larger signage provided by Walt Disney Imagineering. Curators of the exhibit are the USC Thornton School of Music, Marketing and Communications, Margaret Ha and Amanda Smith.

Eighteen display cases highlight facets of Baker's life. Photos, musical scores, awards and placards reflected the following topics:

  • Teacher
  • Conductor and Composer
  • Awards & Honors
  • Disney Legend
  • Young Man
  • Winnie the Pooh

Music for the Winnie the Pooh attraction. Photo by Jeff Moxley.

  • Television & Movies
  • The Fox and the Hound
  • 1964 World's Fair
  • Disneyland
  • Haunted Mansion

Music for the Haunted Mansion attraction. Photo by Jeff Moxley.

  • Impressions of France

Baker and others re-enact the Beatles' Abbey Road album cover while in London recording the score for Impressions of France. Photo by Jeff Moxley.

  • World of Motion
  • Epcot
  • Walt Disney World

Some of the attractions Baker worked on at Walt Disney World. Photo by Jeff Moxley.

  • American Adventure
  • Tokyo Disney Resort
  • Full listing of his accomplishments in film, television and theme parks

    The exhibit runs through May 2004. The Alfred Newman Recital Hall Gallery is located near the university's eastern border of Figueroa Street at USC's University Park Campus, 3616 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles, CA. Call the university's main number, (213) 740-2311, for hours and more information.

    For more information about Buddy Baker, please see our article, “The Masters of Disney: Reflections of Five Men Who Shaped the Art of Entertainment.”


    Norman “Buddy” Baker
    b. 1918 - d. July 26, 2002

    Buddy Baker is the 1999 recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the Program Director for the Advanced Studies Program "Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television," at the University of Southern California. He received his Doctor of Music Degree from Southwest Baptist University.

    Buddy is survived by his wife Charlotte, a daughter and a stepson, his sister, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.


    The Foundations of Magic (formerly Architects of Magic) column looks at the important building blocks that formed the basis of Walt Disney's dream, and includes a look at Disney history, Disney lore, and important Disney individuals—particularly Imagineers and artists—who made significant contributions to Walt Disney's dream.

    Send your comments to Sheila here.


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