Alan Menken, an American composer of musicals and motion picture soundtracks, was born on 22 July 1949 in New Rochelle, New York. He played both violin and piano by high school and, after a short time as a pre-med major at New York University, pursued a career in music, following up his time at NYU with a stint at the Lehman Engel Musical Workshop of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI).
Howard Ashman chose Menken to work with him on the musical version of “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" by Kurt Vonnegut, which appeared Off-Broadway in 1979. They stuck together and adapted Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, first as an Off-Broadway musical that was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and then as a feature film that included a song that was nominated for an Academy Award for Original Song. When Disney decided to return to producing animated feature films, they hired Ashman and Menken to create The Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid marked the beginning of a Menken-Disney dynasty. Over the next number of years, Menken collaborated on:
- Beauty and the Beast with Ashman
- Aladdin with Ashman and Tim Rice who stepped in after Ashman’s untimely death
- Newsies written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White
- Pocahontas with Stephen Schwartz
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Schwartz
- Hercules with David Zippel
- Home on the Range with Glenn Slater
- The Shaggy Dog
- Enchanted with Schwartz
Menken has also adapted his Disney films for Broadway and other theater venues, as well as written music for several Simpson’s episodes, “My Christmas Tree” for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and “The Measure of a Man” for Rocky V.
By 2008, Menken had won four Academy Awards for Best Original Score and four for Best Original Song for the same features: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas. The same four won Golden Globe Awards for Best Original Song as well as Grammy Awards for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media, and the first three won Golden Globes for Best Original Score. Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin also won Grammy Awards for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.