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Bob Dorough, the Genius Behind ‘Schoolhouse Rock’, Has Died

What began as a small, paid songwriting gig turned h an iconic educational Saturday cartoon — and Dorough into a household name.

Brian McMillen; ABC/YouTube

Bob Dorough, acclaimed jazz pianist and composer who is most commonly known for composing some of Schoolhouse Rock’s most scintillating hits, has passed away at the age of 94 at his home in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania.

Dorough, who wrote and performed much of the music of Schoolhouse Rock, a Saturday cartoon the first run of which spanned from 1973 to 1985, is responsible for such songs as “Three Is A Magic Number,” and “My Hero, Zero.”

Dorough’s career began when Sugar Ray Robinson, the boxer, hired him as a member of his band. Although most may know him for populating their Saturday afternoons with fun songs that were also educational, he was an acclaimed jazz musician who performed and worked with Miles Davis, recording his hits “Nothing Like You” and “Blue Xmas,” as well as other famous artists. He also worked as a conductor and arrangement artist and recorded his own compositions.

Dorough fell into educational jazz hits quite by accident: in 1971, an advertising executive from New York approached Dorough because his sons were having trouble mastering multiplication and paid him to set the multiplication tables to music. From there, Dorough wrote “Three Is A Magic Number.” The franchise grew, and landed him a spot as a director and writer of the classic “Schoolhouse Rock” on ABC-TV every Saturday morning for the next fifteen years. He became the series musical director. The show ended in the mid-1980’s but was reprised in the 90’s for several years.

Dorough, of course, sang about much more than math. He also composed instantly catchy ditties about important functions of government and the rules of grammar. His smash hit “I’m Just A Bill,” explained how laws were passed in the United States, and “Conjunction Junction,” taught kids the differences between conjunctions in sentences.

The popularity of Dorough’s work still endures widespread acclaim. Twitter users poured out their grief when they hear about his passing. And a quick look at Youtube shows his most popular Schoolhouse Rock tunes are still heard by millions. Even at the age of 94, Dorough was still performing: Just last week, he performed for more than a thousand adults and kids at the Kennedy Center. Rest in peace, Bill.