Bob Dorough, the composer and jazz musician best known for creating Schoolhouse Rock!, passed away on Monday. The 94-year-old musician died at his home in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, his wife, Sally Shanley Dorough, confirmed to NPR.
Dorough’s career began in the army, where he served as composer, arranger, and player in the Special Services Army Band in the mid-1940s. After receiving his Bachelor of Music from the University of North Texas, he moved to New York to pursue a jazz career. His debut album, Devil May Care, was released in 1956 on Bethlehem Records. Miles Davis would later record his own cover of the title track, an instrumental interpretation that eventually became a jazz standard. Dorough returned the favor by singing on the holiday song “Blue Xmas (To Whom it May Concern)” and “Nothing Like You”, the closing track to Davis’ 1967 album, Sorcerer.
While working at an advertising company in 1971, Dorough was approached by his boss to create a song about the multiplication tables. The idea was that if his kids could remember the lyrics to rock music better than their school lessons, perhaps setting the education to music would do the trick. The song became “Three is a Magic Number”, and the project grew to become Multiplication Rock, the first entry in ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock! series.
Schoolhouse Rock! went on to become a staple of ’70s and ’80s childhood, running from 1973 to 1985. After having penned the entirety of Multiplication Rock, Dorough stayed on as musical director while more contributors were brought on. He wrote memorable tunes for the series such as “Conjunction Junction”, “Verb”, and “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, as well as arranging music for other songwriters.