Leigh Harline: Mormon Composer
Leigh Adrian Harline was a composer and songwriter whose success came primarily in film. He won two Academy Awards, Best Original Music Score for Pinocchio and Best Original Song for “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The song remains the signature song for The Walt Disney Company.
He was born on March 26, 1907, in Salt Lake City, and was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He studied piano and organ with J. Spencer Cornwall, conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and graduated from the University of Utah. He then moved to California where he worked in radio stations as a composer, arranger, conductor, singer, instrumentalist, and announcer. Disney hired Harline in 1932 after he provided music for the first transcontinental radio broadcast to originate from the West Coast. Disney entrusted him and Frank Churchill with scoring the studio’s first feature-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Harline received his first Oscar nomination for “Someday My Prince Will Come.” He went on to compose tunes for more than fifty animated shorts, including the Silly Symphonies cartoon series.
Disney producer and director Wilfred Jackson said that Harline’s “counter melodies, his harmonic structure, all contributed so much more to the final effectiveness of his scores.” He was known for his memorable melodies and his musical sophistication.
In 1941, Harline left Disney and freelanced for other studios. He was nominated for Oscars for scoring The Pride of the Yankees, Johnny Come Lately, and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. He scored Road to Utopia, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, 7 Faces of Dr. Lau, and many others. He also composed for television, including series Ben Casey and Disney’s Daniel Boone.
Harline died on December 10, 1969. He was induced into the Disney Legends in 2001.