Little known fact: Before Disney’s 1997 animated movie Hercules boasted the triumphant gospel score from Alan Menken and David Zippel, Menken’s “first take on Hercules had been closer to Candide.” Directors John Musker and Ron Clements are the ones who said it needed to be gospel.
So Menken developed his five Muses, including Calliope (voiced by Broadway’s Lillias White) and a full Greek chorus.
Though audiences think of White as a a belter, she had not grown up singing gospel. “I didn’t know anything about gospel music until I got to college when I did a show that was written by Joseph A. Walker and Dorothy Dinroe-Walker where I played Miss God,” White says. “I had to learn how to sing it. There’s a specific technique to singing it so that you don’t ruin your voice.”
White learned how and blew the roof off the Disney recording studio with songs such as “The Gospel Truth,” “Zero to Hero,” and “A Star Is Born.” Her performance even earned her a new nickname—which she reveals in the exclusive video above.
White and her fellow Disney leading ladies—Jodi Benson, Paige O’Hara, Judy Kuhn, and Donna Murphy—gathered to go behind the music with Menken as they filmed a bonus special “Alan Menken and His Leading Ladies” for the 30th anniversary celebration of the The Little Mermaid and the film’s release into the Walt Disney Signature Collection.
Here, White and Menken talk about the movie’s signature sound, the Grammy-winning talent who sang as part of the Greek chorus, and more behind the music of Hercules.
Be sure to catch the full bonus feature “Alan Menken and His Leading Ladies.” Available on digital, 4k Ultra HD, and Movies Anywhere February 12 and on 4k Ultra HD and Blu-ray February 26. The Little Mermaid also includes new bonus features inside the original recording sessions; a new installment of Stories From Walt’s Office, featuring “Gadgets & Gizmos” Disney kept in his office; a “#TreasuresUntold” special, revealing secrets about the original movie; DCappella’s fresh music video of “Part of Your World”; sing-along mode; and classic bonus features like deleted scenes, audio commentary from directors Ron Clements, John Musker, and Menken. Plus, only available on digital, three additional hours of bonus features and “Part of Your World” – A 30-Year Retrospective where Menken and Benson talk about finding Ariel’s voice, the peak of Disney “I Want” songs, and more.