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LPWire: Disney Legend Buddy Baker, Dies at Age 84

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Buddy Baker, Prolific Disney Composer of 200 Scores for Films, Television Shows and Theme Park Attractions, Dies at Age 84

His 29-Year Disney Stint Included Scores for TV's 'Davy Crockett,' 'Mickey Mouse Club,' Numerous Films Plus 'The Haunted Mansion' And 'Small World' Attractions

Buddy Baker, the prolific and versatile composer of musical scores for nearly 200 Disney feature films, television shows and theme park attractions, passed away from natural causes on Friday (7/26) at his home in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 84-years old

An Oscar(R) nominee in 1973 for his score for "Napoleon and Samantha," Baker first came to the Disney Studio in 1954 and went on to compose music for such popular television shows as "Davy Crockett" and "The Mickey Mouse Club;" films such as "Toby Tyler," "The Gnome-Mobile," "The Fox and the Hound," and the original three "Winnie the Pooh" featurettes; and landmark theme park attractions such as "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," "It's a Small World," and "The Haunted Mansion" (for which he co-wrote the song "Grim Grinning Ghosts"). In his role as musical director for Walt Disney World's Epcot, he oversaw the development of all the music heard at the park. Among his other achievements, he received the ASCAP Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. For the past 14 years, he also served as director of the University of Southern California's film scoring program. Three years ago, NYU initiated the Buddy Baker Film Scoring Workshop (in association with ASCAP).

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Buddy Baker and X Atencio at the 1999 NFFC Convention

Roy E. Disney, vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company, said, "Buddy was a terrific guy and a major contributor to the films, television shows and theme park attractions. Anyone who has ever been to a Disney theme park has enjoyed his music and his scores are well known to many generations of film fans and TV viewers. I had the privilege of working with Buddy on scores for several projects that I produced and he always came through with something original and appropriate. I remember one time I asked him to create a 'funny' score for a comedy we were making and he had the orchestra in stitches while they were recording it. He was a great person and an enormous talent."

Raised in Springfield, Illinois, Baker learned to read music before he could read words. He started piano lessons at age four and moved to trumpet at age 11. He studied music at Southwest Baptist University, where he became fascinated with harmony and eventually devised his own system. Baker soon began writing arrangements for bands. In 1938, he moved to Los Angeles where he wrote arrangements and launched a radio career with "The Bob Hope Show." He went on to write music for radio greats Jack Benny and Eddie Cantor. As musical director of Hope's show during WWII, he brought Stan Kenton on board and arranged that band's first major hit, "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine."

In 1954, Baker joined the Disney Studios at the urging of his former student, George Bruns. His first assignment was to help out on music for "Davy Crockett." He soon became the musical director for "The Mickey Mouse Club," which ran five days a week for four years and required new musical material to be written and learned in a day.

Baker's first film score for Disney was the 1960 feature, "Toby Tyler." He went on to compose music for such other films as "Rascal," "Run, Cougar, Run," "Summer Magic," "The Monkey's Uncle," "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones," "The Gnome-Mobile," "$1,000,000 Duck," and the 1981 animated feature, "The Fox and the Hound." His other theatrical credits include the featurettes, "Donald in Mathmagic Land" plus memorable scores for the three original "Winnie the Pooh" offerings. His score for the 1972 Disney comedy, "Napoleon and Samantha" earned him an Academy Award(R) nomination. Among his non-Disney scores, he wrote the music for the 1987 feature, "The Puppetoon Movie."

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Buddy Baker at Disneyland's Haunted Mansion Event in 1999

In 1964, Baker began applying his skills to the new world of theme park attractions, scoring "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," "It's a Small World" and "The Carousel of Progress" for the New York World's Fair. Following that, the versatile composer focused most of his time on theme park attraction music for Disney's resorts in Anaheim, Orlando and Tokyo. This involved exploring a wide range of new formats that never existed in film music.

Baker's biggest challenge came with the opening of Epcot at Walt Disney World, where he was charged with overseeing the musical development for the entire park. He personally worked on seven attractions, including his personal favorite, "Impressions de France," for which he utilized a 100-piece orchestra to record a combination of original and classical pieces. He also composed the sweeping patriotic score for "The American Adventure," one of the top attractions at Epcot's World Showcase.

Baker retired from Disney in 1983. Two years later, he began teaching a class in scoring for animation at the University of Southern California. In 1988, he became director of the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program at USC, which he headed until his death. It remains one of the nation's most competitive university-level film-scoring programs.

He returned to Disney on several occasions after his retirement to provide a new arrangement for the Carousel of Progress' "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" as well as music for new attractions at Walt Disney World and Tokyo DisneySea.

Baker received Grammy nominations for his work on an album of songs from TV's "The Electric Company" (1973) and for "America Sings" (1974), featuring Burl Ives. He conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra and London Royal Philharmonic in Disney music and at the Hollywood Bowl.

Baker is survived by his wife of 26 years, Charlotte; a daughter from a previous marriage, Catherine CiCi Baker of Lake Tahoe, Nevada; his sister, Noreene Doss of Springfield, Ill; a stepson, Scott Keene; two grandchildren and a great grandchild.

Funeral services will be private. A celebration of Baker's life will be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made in his name to USC's Flora Thornton School of Music, Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television Program

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--Posted July 29, 2002
Source: Walt Disney Pictures