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Happy Birthday to Cartoon Music

Today the American Composers Forum is commemorating the birth of a “quintessential American form of 20th century music: cartoons”.

Actually, there is a lot to celebrate today. November 18, 1928 was the day Steamboat Willie, Disney’s first cartoon with a synchronized soundtrack, premiered at the Colony Theater in New York City. This is also the official birthday of its star, Mickey Mouse.

Because of this, Carl Stalling is being featured today with a tribute on Composers Datebook despite the fact that Stalling didn’t create the musical track for Steamboat Willie (Willfred Jackson and Carl Edouarde did that). There’s no doubt, however, that Stalling is a seminal figure in both Disney music and Warner Bros. cartoons and his influence is still being felt today.

So “Happy Birthday” to Mickey, Willie and the soundtrack of all of our lives – Cartoon Music!

(Thanks, Uncle Wayne)

  • I know my life would sure feel poorer without cartoon music!

  • The Fleischers were the ones who married music with animation with the bouncing ball. I’m always amazed how little people know about silent films. Silent films weren’t silent. They were designed to go with music.

    • The Bouncing Ball films were just the barest marriage of animation and music. We can’t really say the music was created for the film so we can’t really point to those as the real dawn of a new music genre.

      In any event, history doesn’t record lines around the block waiting to see a Bouncing Ball short, pioneering though they were.

  • Mark

    A very few were. But most silent films were NOT “designed” to go with music. Most of them were not edited to a music score—vitaphone/on film/or live. The music was done afterwards in most cases–many scored to the image. But they were not “designed” to go with music. The music was designed to go with the image.

  • For celebration’s sake, I will hear Flea-Ridden Sheep Dog and Ghost Wanted, two of my favorite Stalling’s hits.

  • Greg

    There’s are a couple of nice books that came about some time ago concerning cartoon music that are worth mentioning again:

    by Daniel Goldmark

    a collection of interviews and essays compiled
    by Daniel Goldmark and Yuval Taylor


  • Marc Baker

    Happy 82nd birthday, Mickey, and happy 82nd birthday to cartoon music!

  • Daniel Goldmark

    Carl Stalling’s birthday was eight days ago (November 10, 1891) and Scott Bradley’s is eight days from now (November 26, 1891). An interesting coincidence that this date falls right in the middle!

  • Mark

    Let’s hear it for Harry Warren, who’s music is most quoted in the Warners Shorts by Stalling! Mainly because Warners was hawking it’s large music library…

  • Live action silent film sets often had bands that performed as they were shooting to set a mood and establish a beat. I bet editors of silent films cut to a click track too. I see a lot of films where the cuts are on the beat, particularly comedies. The Fleischers were the first to totally synchronize their cartoons. They had to because the audience had to sing along.

  • Anthony D.

    Happy birthday to both Mickey and cartoon music! :)

  • Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

  • November 20 is also the 70th birthday Woody Woodpecker, a studio is releasing some short videos to celebrate the day.

  • Fran

    Don’t forget that sections of compositions by Raymond Scott, such as Powerhouse and The Penguin, often turned up as part of the soundtracks of classic Warner Bros. cartoons.

  • Peter H

    Although the score for Steamboat Willie had already been devised, presumeably Disney’s reason for stopping off at Kansas en route to New York was not just to persuade Stalling to score the 2 finished silent Mickeys but to have him make presentable the score that Jackson had concocted. I believe Stalling is supposed to have commented “This guy is no musician!” – I take this to mean that Stalling took on the task of writing up Jackson’s draft in a more polished form, which Disney then took on to New York. Since he’d only tidied up Jackson’s score, Stalling did not count that as one of his own scores (“I didn’t write the score for Steamboat Willie“), but I’m sure that he must have had that degree of involvement, because I can’t imagine Disney not getting him to go over it.

  • Happy Birthday Mickey!

  • Carl Stalling definitly created the cartoon soundrack as we know it. :).
    Let+s hope there is a daring young composer waiting to follow on his footsteps.

    • Luke

      Randy Rogel, Steve and Julie Bernstein, and Richiard Stone were all wonderful at this kind of scoring.