Skip to content

Disney’s Musical Connection to Upstate New York

Quick! Name five of your favorite Disney songs off the top of your head! And…go!

Chances are in that list you probably had a song from Mary Poppins, maybe It’s a Small World (After All), perhaps a song from Beauty and the Beast. If you did, you aren’t alone.

One of the great things Disney is known for is the incredible music they create that just weaves itself so beautifully into the fabric of our lives. Almost as if we’ve known those songs our whole lives, even if we’re hearing them for the first time. To me, it’s one of the special attributes that separates Disney from the rest. 

Recently, I was doing some research on an article I was writing for a wedding alt=blog that I own. I was writing about Disney weddings (I always have to weave Disney in somehow) and out of curiosity, I wanted to know if Disney had any ties to the Hudson Valley (upstate, N.Y.), where I live. I thought it was a long shot, but boy, was I SURPRISED by what I found! Not only did Disney have ties with the Hudson Valley, but some of the most iconic songs in Disney history were written here! 

If you’re a history buff (Disney history buff) like me, you’re going to love this article. If you’re a New Yorker, you’re going to find this very interesting. If you’re a Disney history buff living in New York, then you need to do as Lou says…”Sit back, relax, and enjoy this week’s blog post.”

The Sherman Brothers

You can’t think of Disney without immediately thinking of Richard and Robert Sherman. These legends wrote more motion-picture songs than any other songwriters in the history of film! Not only that, but they wrote one of, if not the most recognized song in perhaps the world, It’s a Small World (After All). They are also responsible for all the music in my favorite Disney movie of all time, Mary Poppins

Well, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that in 1949, the brothers graduated from Bard College, which is about 40 minutes from my house! I couldn’t believe these legends studied and honed their craft so close to where I live. Bard is a 150-year-old college nestled on the Banks of the Hudson River. It’s a small school with roughly 1,900 total students and offers degrees in four areas: Art; Languages and Literature; Science, Math and Computing; and Social Studies. It’s amazing to me to think that of all the places in the country; they came here, upstate New York and studied at such a small school. It’s amazing!! 

Beauty and the Beast

There was always this urban legend around town that the music for Beauty and the Beast was written here. In the right circles, you’d hear it mumbled with no locals really giving it much thought, other than thinking it was a rumor started by someone wanting to put us on the map. Well, I decided to do some investigating. YouTube is a great rabbit hole for finding tidbits of info and sure enough, I found a little video that confirmed that all the music for Beauty and the Beast was written in a conference room (with a rented piano) in a Residence Inn in Fishkill, N.Y. (about 20 minutes from my home). But why? Why this town, and why a hotel? 

In the late ’80s/early ’90s when Beauty and the Beast was still in production, the film’s lyricist, Howard Ashman, who was diagnosed with AIDS and in failing health, needed to stay close to home (which was near Fishkill) while the music for the film was being createalt=d. So the rest of his team, which also included composer Alan Menken, flew into town and went to work creating some of the most beloved and most recognizable Disney music ever recorded. 

Now, here is where it gets REALLY, REALLY interesting. The musical team was so impressed by the level of customer service they all received at the hotel that they wrote the song Be Our Guest in honor of that hotel! Isn’t that AMAZING??!! Be Our Guest was inspired by customer service at a hotel!! My mind was blown when I heard this. 

While that hotel is no longer there (It’s a Springhill Suites now) I actually had the opportunity to speak to the Vice President of Operations of the company that owns the current hotel, who, himself, also heard of this “legend” before he started there. He says that there was actually a letter written by the musical team and sent to the staff of the Residence Inn saying the song Be Our Guest, was a tribute to the service and hospitality that was extended to them.  This letter was kept in an awards curio in the gatehouse area of the hotel. Unfortunately, with the change of ownership and renovations, the letter sadly disappeared.

So, there you have it! Disney has a connection to the Hudson Valley! 

Does your hometown have a connection to Disney? You might be surprised. It could be one of those “George Washington slept here” kind of findings.

To learn more about Felicia and Sean and read their other posts on the WDW Radio Blog, visit their author page.  

(All photos from the personal collection of Kathy Wicks.)