Musician Bob Dorough, 94, best known as a composer and performer for ABC's educational series of short cartoons Schoolhouse Rock!, died of natural causes at his Mount Bethel, Pa., home on Monday, his son, Chris, said. Originally a jazz musician, he "set the multiplication tables to music" as musical director for the educational cartoon series between 1973 and 1985, according to his biography.
The cartoons, which returned to the airwaves from 1993 to 1999, focused on teaching children school subjects like history, math, and grammar through songs set to animation. It began in 1971, when Mr. Dorough was approached by an advertising executive to put multiplication tables to music, leading to "Three Is a Magic Number," as well as a Multiplication Rock collection.
By 1973, the project evolved into the now-beloved Schoolhouse Rock! Some of Mr. Dorough's most memorable songs from the series include "Conjunction Junction," "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," and "I'm Just a Bill." According to the Morning Call, Mr. Dorough still performed some of his Schoolhouse Rock! songs in live shows as recently as 2016.
An Arkansas native raised in Texas, Mr. Dorough first began playing music in his high school band, according to The Wrap. He later joined the Special Services Army Band Unit in 1943, and served there through the duration of World War II. After his service, he enrolled at the University of North Texas, where Mr. Dorough earned a music degree before moving to New York City in 1949 to pursue a life in the city's jazz scene.
His first record, Devil May Care, was released in 1956 via the New York-based Bethlehem Records. After its release, Mr. Dorough struck up a relationship with the jazz great Miles Davis and worked with him on tracks including "Blue Xmas," "Nothing Like You," and an instrumental version of Devil May Care's title track.
"I always dug Miles and would go to see him in New York City," Mr. Dorough told the Inquirer in 2016. "But he was a very unapproachable cat. You'd say, 'Hey, Miles, I really dug that set!' and he wouldn't stop. He might glance at you, but he didn't say a word. Years later, I was in L.A., and one of my friends related to me that he actually heard my LP when he was in town doing a three-week engagement, so I took her to the club and met him there, and we became pals for a minute."
In the 1970s, Mr. Dorough began his work on Schoolhouse Rock! As he put it to the Inquirer, he "stumbled into that gig."
"We had a captive audience — every Saturday, kids were eating cereal and watching cartoons, and some of them found Schoolhouse Rock! and got stuck on it," he said. "If it were up to me, it would last forever, because there's always kids."
A funeral is tentatively scheduled for Monday, April 30, in Mount Bethel.