Bob Dorough, the jazzman who created the clever and enduring Schoolhouse Rock toons that taught grammar, math, science, and citizenship to a generation of TV-watching kids, has died. He was 94. His family told the Associated Press that Dorough died Monday at his home in Mount Bethel, PA, but did not give a cause.
Born on December 12, 1923, in Cherry Hill, AR, Dorough was a jazz musician in the early 1970s when a New York ad man complained that his young sons couldn’t do multiplication and wanted to have the times tables set to music because the kids could recite every rock lyric of the era. That led to Dorough’s classic first Schoolhouse Rock song, “Three Is a Magic Number,” which is remembered for its brilliant simplicity and sticky chorus that counted to 36 by threes, accompanied by animation.
That led to Schoolhouse Rock, a 1973-85 series of Saturday-morning shortform content on ABC that used music and rhyme to help kids learn basic facts, with such memorable songs as “Elementary, My Dear” (Multiplication Rock, 1973), “Conjunction Junction” (Grammar Rock, 1973), “I’m Just a Bill” (America Rock, 1975), “Electricity, Electricity” (Science Rock, 1978) and countless others. Dorough wrote and/or performed many of them, not including “I’m Just a Bill,” which famously was spoofed on Saturday Night Live in 2014.
The series was revived in the 1990s with new and classic episodes, and others were produced direct-to-video in 2009. Dorough expanded the brand to include Computer Rock (1982), Money Rock (1994) and Earth Rock (2009).
Rhino Records issued a four-CD box set of Schoolhouse Rock tunes in 1996, and Disney produced a two-DVD set for the series’ 30th anniversary in 2002, featuring 52 of the 64 episodes.
Here is the short of one of Dorough’s most popular creations, “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” which he wrote and performed: