So, you know every line in The Lion King, to the point where you could stage a one-(wo)man show, and you’ve shared a couples’ costume moment as Buzz Lightyear and Woody for more Halloweens than you’d care to admit. But how much do you actually know about the singers behind the best Disney songs?
The House Of Mouse boasts an impressive string of actors and composers, varying from Academy Award-winning Hollywood stars to Broadway veterans. Singing the beloved songs is, however, only half the story. Knowing the people who brought them to life is truly a whole new world.
Here are all the need-to-know essentials about the singers behind the best Disney songs.
Julie Andrews: ‘A Spoonful Of Sugar’ (Mary Poppins, 1964)
Leave it to Julie Andrews, to turn the banality of taking medicine into a charming and joyous celebration. One of the most famous singers behind the best Disney songs, everyone’s favourite cinematic nanny floated into the hearts of viewers long before her turn as Mary Poppins. Broadway roles such as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and Queen Guinevere alongside Richard Burton’s King Arthur in Camelot put her on the map in her early career. Andrews soon became a household name following Mary Poppins, with her role as another loveable caretaker, Maria, in The Sound Of Music film adaptation the following year.
Cliff Edwards: ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ (Pinocchio, 1940)
Known as “Ukulele Ike” and bearing a strong resemblance to cinema’s most beloved cricket, Cliff Edwards was no stranger to Hollywood. An actor of stage and screen, Edwards appeared in everything from George and Ira Gershwin’s first Broadway musical, Lady Be Good, to the film His Girl Friday. In addition to his famous turn as the conscious-abiding bug in Pinocchio, he also voiced the head crow in Disney’s Dumbo.
Jodi Benson: ‘Part Of Your World’ (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
Providing both the speaking and singing voice to Disney’s most precocious mermaid, Jodi Benson was a Broadway actress before she became Disney’s leading lady. After wrapping the show Smile with lyricist and playwright Howard Ashman, the latter advised her to audition for the upcoming film. Benson made her silver-screen debut in 1989, giving voice to one of Disney’s most enduring hits. Benson would go on to become a successful voice actress and Tony-nominated performer, lending her voice to various characters over the years (including playing Barbie in Toy Story 2 and 3) and landing one of her few live-action film roles to date when she appeared in the fantasy musical romcom Enchanted, in 2007.
Brad Kane: ‘A Whole New World’ (Aladdin, 1992)
Make way for Brad Kane! Having started his career at just three yeas old with a small part in the film Six Weeks, Brad Kane went on to parlay an off-Broadway chorus-boy turn in shows such as Evita into several TV and movie appearances, including Law & Order to Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Kane provided the vocals to Scott Weinger’s speaking voice for Aladdin and carried the Alan Menken-written tune to a Grammy award for Song Of The Year at the 36th Annual Grammys. The first and only Disney song to do, ‘A Whole New World’ finds Kane’s place secure among the singers behind the best Disney songs.
Lea Salonga: ‘Reflection’ (Mulan, 1998)
From the palace of Agrabah to the training camps of imperial China, Salonga voiced the characters of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin and Mulan’s titular role. She was the first Asian woman to win a Tony Award (Best Performance By A Leading Actress In A Musical), which she received in 1991 for her role in Miss Saigon, when she was just 20. Salonga was named a Disney Legend in 2011 for her work with the Magic Kingdom. Prior to Miss Saigon, she made her debut at just seven years of age in the Repertory Philippines production of The King And I, and also starred in the eponymous role of Annie, in 1980, going on to make appearances in other major musicals including Miss Saigon and Les Misérables.
Danny Elfman: ‘What’s This?’ (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)
Just as The Nightmare Before Christmas seamlessly doubles as both a Christmas and a Halloween movie, so too does Danny Elfman triple-up on providing the score, lyrics and singing voice of Jack Skellington for the film. In addition to being the frontman of the new wave group Oingo Boingo, Elfman brought his musical scoring talents to other Tim Burton classics, including Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd and Edward Scissorhands. He also created the theme tune for The Simpsons. The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Score in 1993, and Elfman’s turn on ‘What’s This?’ makes the composer one of the most-loved singers behind the best Disney songs.
Jerry Orbach: ‘Be Our Guest’ (Beauty And The Beast, 1991)
After having the time of his life in Dirty Dancing, but before flashing his badge as Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order, Jerry Orbach was everyone’s favourite dancing Parisian candelabra. Orbach has also been nominated for multiple Tony Awards for a number of Broadway appearances, including his portrayal of Billy Flynn in Chicago and Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises, for which he won the award. His rendition of ‘Be Our Guest’ was nominated for Best Original Song at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. Nobody puts Lumière in the corner.
Joseph Williams: ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’ (The Lion King, 1994)
Being the son of film composer John Williams, it seems only right that Joseph Williams would go on to make a name for himself as one of the singers behind the best Disney songs. Before singing for Simba, Williams was famous for fronting Toto during their post-‘Africa’ years in the mid-to-late 80s. In addition to releasing solo records, Williams followed in his father’s footsteps and went on to have a composing career, scoring music for film and TV.
Judy Kuhn: ‘Colors Of The Wind’ (Pocahontas, 1995)
Long before she lent her soprano-pop voice to the character of Pocahontas in the mid-90s, Judy Kohn was a distinguished Broadway singer who had a slew of Tony nominations to her name, starring in 80s Broadway productions of Les Misérables, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ musical Chess and the West End production of Metropolis. When it came to her Disney role, Kuhn’s vocals carried ‘Colors Of The Wind’ to an Academy Award for Best Original Song and pushed the Pocahontas soundtrack to No.1 on the Billboard 200. The lyrics for the song were inspired by letters that a Native American chief wrote to the US Congress pleading for the statesmen to honour their responsibility to native lands and ecological resources. The end result was a beautifully moving tune that carried a timeless message.
Roger Bart: ‘Go The Distance’ (Hercules, 1997)
Though the character of Hercules is voiced by Tate Donovan(who portrayed Jimmy Cooper, the embezzling stockbroker in The OC), it’s singer Roger Bart who earns his place among the singers behind the best Disney songs, courtesy of his vocals for the company’s hunkiest demigod. Prior to crooning on Mount Olympus, Bart’s Broadway credentials include turns in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown (for which he won a Tony), The Producers and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. In addition to Bart’s recording for the film, both Michael Bolton and Ricky Martin performed versions of ‘Go The Distance’ for the end credits on the English and Spanish versions, respectively.
Randy Newman: ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ (Toy Story, 1995)
Not only one of the singers behind the biggest Disney songs, Randy Newman is a singer-songwriter in his own right, with a devoted fanbase. Younger fans may only know him as the sentimental tunesmith behind numerous Disney film soundtracks, including the Toy Story trilogy, but Randy Newman’s musical career began long before he was a twinkle in Pixar’s eye. Penning hits throughout the 60s and 70s for the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield and, most famously, Harry Nilsson, Newman also recorded his own music, including the surprise hit ‘Short People’. From the 80s onward, he became a hugely successful film composer and is behind many of Disney’s most heartfelt hits. With over 20 Oscar nominations to his name, Disney has a friend in Randy Newman.
Idina Menzel: ‘Let It Go’ (Frozen, 2013)
Before occupying an ice palace atop the mountains of Arendelle in Frozen, Idina Menzel was just another down-and-out bohemian urbanite trying to keep the lights on as Maureen Johnson in the musical Rent – both on Broadway and in the 2005 film adaptation. She also famously originated the role of Elphaba the wicked witch in the Broadway smash Wicked. Not only did ‘Let It Go’ crack the top five on the Billboard Hot 100, it won an Oscar and a Grammy, for Best Original Song and Best Song Written For Visual Media, respectively.
Christopher Jackson: ‘Where You Are’ (Moana, 2016)
Playing America’s first president in the Lin-Manuel Miranda ultra-smash hit Hamilton is just one of the highlights of Christopher Jackson’s career. Miranda and Jackson collaborated again to write the music for Moana. Prior to voicing Chief Tui in the film, however, Jackson was a series regular on various TV shows including HBO’s Oz, Gossip Girl and The Good Wife. Not only is Christopher a music writer for film and stage, but he has written music for LL Cool J and will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas.
Benjamin Bratt: ‘Remember Me’ (Coco, 2017)
While the fictitious crooner Ernesto De La Cruz serves as the musical inspiration for the film Coco, for Benjamin Bratt (the voice behind the character) Coco marked his first foray into singing. Yet another Law & Order star to find himself sitting among the singers behind the best Disney songs, Bratt carried the Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez-written song to an Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 2017 ceremony. Bratt joined the movie alongside Hollywood alums Edward James Olmos and Gael García Bernal, who also made his singing debut.
Mary Costa: ‘Once Upon A Dream’ (Sleeping Beauty, 1959)
Mary Costa supplied the pipes behind Disney’s most well-rested princess in the 1959 film. The melody was based on a Tchaikovsky tune from the original Sleeping Beauty ballet of 1890, and serves as the love song throughout the movie. After cutting her teeth with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in concerts at UCLA, Costa was called by Walt Disney himself to offer her the part of Aurora following her audition. She was even chosen by Jackie Kennedy to sing at JFK’s memorial service in LA, in 1963.