Bob Dorough, ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ Composer, Dies
Bob Dorough, who wrote many of the songs for ABC's Schoolhouse Rock! animated series, has died in Mt. Bethel, Penn. He was 94.
Born in Cherry Hill, Ark., on Dec. 12, 1923, Dorough grew up in Texas, where he first learned how to play music. From 1943-45, he served in the Army's Band Unit, working as an arranger and playing clarinet, saxophone and piano. From there he went to the University of Texas, where he received a bachelor's degree in music, followed by a move to New York to study at Columbia University.
He left school in 1952, just as New York's bebop scene was flourishing, and soon gained a reputation as an arranger, conductor and player. This led to a record deal, with his first album, Devil May Care, coming out in 1956. It attracted the attention of Miles Davis, who chose one of Dorough's compositions, "Blue Xmas," for a 1962 Christmas compilation that Davis' label, Columbia, was putting out. Dorough sang on it, and the pair teamed up again four years later for "Nothing Like You" from Davis' Sorcerer LP.
Watch 'Three Is a Magic Number' From 'Schoolhouse Rock!'
Schoolhouse Rock! came about in 1971 when David Macall, an advertising executive, hired him to write a song to help his son with his multiplication tables. The result was "Three Is a Magic Number," and it worked so well that Macall's agency created a storyboard and pitched it to Michael Eisner, who ran children's programming for ABC.
The series premiered in early 1973, with all 11 segments devoted to multiplication and Dorough writing every song, as well as singing on most of them. From there, they branched out into grammar, American history -- to coincide with the U.S. Bicentennial -- and science. Other composers, such as Lynn Ahrens and George R. Newall, were later hired, while Dorough contributed such classics as "Conjunction Junction," "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here," 'The Shot Heard Round the World," "Mother Necessity" and "Electricity, Electricity."
Production of the shorts stopped in 1979, but reruns continued to air through 1985. Schoolhouse Rock! was revived in 1993, with Dorough's "Busy Prepositions" leading the way, and another series devoted to money. This coincided with the rise of alternative rock, and some of the day's top acts -- including Blind Melon, the Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom and Ween -- came together to record some of the series' best-known songs for 1996's Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks.
That same year, all of the original Schoolhouse Rock! recordings were compiled for a box set. Two more segments were produced in 2002, and the series ended in 2009 with Earth Rock, a 12-song home video for which Dorough wrote or co-wrote four numbers.
Listen to Buffalo Tom Perform 'Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here'
When not working on Schoolhouse Rock!, Dorough continued to record, either as a sideman or a band leader, with 2015's But for Now being his last release. Still, it's his contribution to children's television that forms the bulk of his legacy, and he takes pride in knowing how many people grew up to, and learned from, his creations.
"I sometimes say, the kids grow up and now they’re [older], and now they go to bars and drink!" he told Yahoo! "And they discover me again, playing at bars! ... It was designed to educate, but I attempted to write songs that would entertain anyone, from ages 2 to 92."