Oscar-, Grammy-nommed composer Baker dies

Musician scored 40 films, 125 TV shows for Disney

This article was corrected on July 31, 2002.

Norman D. “Buddy” Baker, Oscar- and Grammy-nommed composer who scored many of Walt Disney films and TV shows as well as theme park rides and who in recent years headed the film-scoring program at USC, died of natural causes Friday July 26 at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 84.

Disney hired Baker as musical director on the original “Mickey Mouse Club” in 1955. The five-day-a-week afternoon show on ABC frequently featured the Mousketeers singing and dancing, often to music composed, arranged or conducted by Baker.

Baker stayed on at Disney for nearly three decades, scoring an estimated 40 feature films, 125 television shows and a number of Disney theme-park attractions including the long-running “Country Bears Jamboree,” “Haunted Mansion” and “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland (it also bowed at the 1964 World’s Fair; he scored the Sherman brothers’ song so the music and languages blend seamlessly as riders move from one “country” to another).

Baker received a 1972 Oscar nomination for Disney family film “Napoleon and Samantha.” In 1998, 15 years after the end of his full-time composing commitments there, the studio honored him as a “Disney Legend.”

In 1985, Baker began teaching a class in scoring for animation at USC. Three years later, 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.

Springfield, Mo., native studied piano and trumpet as a boy and, after completing formal studies in music at colleges in Missouri, went on to become a professional trumpeter and an arranger for many celebrated big bands of the 1930s and ’40s, including those of Harry James, Stan Kenton, Jack Teagarden, Bob Crosby and Charlie Barnet. His arrangement of “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine” became a Top 10 hit for Kenton in 1944.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1938 and began writing arrangements for such popular radio programs as those featuring Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Eddie Cantor as well as Kay Kyser’s “Kollege of Musical Knowledge” and the “Standard Hour.”

Later, he began teaching arranging and orchestration at Los Angeles City College.

George Bruns, a former student of Baker’s who was writing music for one of Disney’s early forays into TV drama, “Davy Crockett” starring Fess Parker, asked Baker for orchestrational help while that show was in production in 1954. The “Mickey Mouse Club” assignment followed, and Baker remained with the studio, scoring TV shows, films and theme park rides through 1983.

Baker scored both live-action and animated films for Disney, including the circus adventure “Toby Tyler” (1960), “The Monkey’s Uncle” (1965), “The Gnome-Mobile” (1967), the Oscar-winning “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (1968), “Napoleon and Samantha” (1971) and “The Fox and the Hound” (1981).

He also composed the scores for many segments of Disney’s weekly anthology series on ABC and NBC which ran under the titles of “Disneyland,” “The Wonderful World of Color” and “Wonderful World of Disney”; segs included “Texas John Slaughter,” “Swamp Fox,” “Johnny Shiloh” “The Golden Horseshoe Revue” and “One Day at Teton Marsh,” one of many nature documentaries that Baker would score for Disney over the years.

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’s Royal Philharmonic in Disney music, and also did so at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and at the Hollywood Bowl.

In addition to his duties at USC, Baker three years ago inaugurated an annual summer film-scoring workshop at New York U. In 1999, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the ASCAP Foundation. He continued to score attractions for various Disney theme parks around the world, including Epcot Center (the French Pavilion), Tokyo Disneyland (Seven Voyages of Sindbad), Walt Disney World (Winnie the Pooh) and Disneyland (Innoventions).

Baker is survived by his wife of 26 years, Charlotte; a daughter; a stepson; two granddaughters; a great-granddaughter; and a sister.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

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