Distinguished composer/lyricist Alan Menken is responsible for penning many of the catchiest tunes of the Disney features of the late '80s and '90s, including such chart-toppers as "Whole New World" (from Aladdin) and "Colors of the Wind" (Pocahontas). A graduate of New York University, Menken got his start when noted playwright Howard Ashman chose him and Lehman Engel to write the music for his 1978 adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Menken and Ashman had major success as a team when they adapted Roger Corman's popular 1960 film Little Shop of Horrors into an off-Broadway smash that became a feature film in 1966. With Menken supplying the tunes and Ashman writing the lyrics, the duo began working for Disney on The Little Mermaid, the studio's first major animated feature in years. For their catchy calypso tune "Under the Sea," Menken and Ashman earned an Academy Award. Menken went on to earn several more Oscars for his songwriting work, at one point tying with costume designer Edith Head as the person to win the third most Oscars in history. Following Ashman's death in 1991, Menken continued working for Disney with others, notably Stephen Schwartz.
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Started composing as a child when his parents left him alone to practice piano and he would make up variations of the pieces he should have been playing.
- His father, his paternal grandfather and a paternal uncle were dentists.
- Was concertmaster of the band and president of the chess club in high school.
- Entered college as a pre-med student before switching to music.
- Early on, supported himself by writing jingles, providing piano accompaniment to ballet classes and penning songs for Sesame Street.
- Helped finance a cross-country trip in the late 1960s by playing fiddle on street corners for money.
- In the 1970s, wanted to be a singer-songwriter in the Jackson Browne-Elton John-Billy Joel mold.
- Wrote a rock ballet, Children of the World, just after college.
- Once performed live music for the TV soap opera Search for Tomorrow.
- Has a scholarship in his name at his alma mater, NYU.