Bob Dorough, Legendary ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ Composer And Performer, Dead At 94

The iconic composer performed some of the most beloved songs from the 1970s animated series, and he was also an accomplished jazz musician.

Schoolhouse Rock
Giorgio Perottino / Getty Images

The iconic composer performed some of the most beloved songs from the 1970s animated series, and he was also an accomplished jazz musician.

Bob Dorough, the legendary musician who taught children about ABCs, adverbs, and Capitol Hill bills, has died. Dorough passed away of natural causes at his Pennsylvania home. He was 94-years-old, according to The Wrap.

A musician since childhood, Bob Dorough played piano, clarinet, saxophone, and more. Dorough served in the Army’s Band Unit in the early 1940s before earning his degree in music from the University of Texas. Dorough began to work as a musician and songwriter, penning “Comin’ Home Baby,” alongside bassist Ben Tucker, which became a Top 40 hit for Mel Tormé in 1962. Dorough also wrote the song “Devil May Care,” which jazz legend Miles Davis later recorded as an instrumental. The duo teamed up for later recordings, including the song “Nothing Like You” from Davis’ 1967 album Sorcerer.

In 1973, Bob Dorough was part of the TV team that “set the multiplication tables to music” as musical director for the educational cartoon series Schoolhouse Rock. Dorough was the man behind the Schoolhouse Rock classics “Conjunction Junction,” “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” and many more. Bob’s debut song, “Three is a Magic Number,” appeared in the Schoolhouse Rock pilot.

The Schoolhouse Rock shorts aired on Saturday mornings on ABC between 1973 and 1985 and later had a six-year revival from 1993 to 1999. The 1990s revival was so popular that alternative acts of the era, including Buffalo Tom, Blind Melon, Moby, Better Than Ezra, and the Lemonheads came together to cover classic songs from the show for the 1996 compilation album Schoolhouse Rock Rocks.

According to CNN, Bob Dorough’s educational songwriting began when he was approached in 1971 by a New York advertising exec whose sons could not multiply. After setting the multiplication tables to music with the song “Three’s a Magic Number,” Bob knew he had something. The idea spawned one of the most beloved educational TV shows of all time.

Dorough told CNN that even in his 90s, adults would recognize his voice and that he would continue to get requests to sing some of his famous Schoolhouse Rock bits.

“I am not surprised at all [that the songs still resonate],” Dorough told CNN in 2013. “However, what surprised me most was the impact of network television, which kicked in years later, after we’d been on air at ABC TV. Thirteen years, plus a second round, helped us to reach literally thousands, in a rather broad age spectrum.”

The death of Bob Dorough has many Schoolhouse Rock fans feeling nostalgic—even famous ones. Producer/comedian Judd Apatow took to Twitter to remember Bob Dorough as “a giant talent who made so many of us so happy as kids with Schoolhouse Rock.”

“Listen to ‘Three Is a Magic Number’ and try to not get emotional,” Apatow wrote. “He sang and wrote it along with all the math ones and others too. He worked with Miles Davis and Lenny Bruce. Amazing!”

You can listen to “‘Three is a Magic Number,” Bob Dorough’s song from the Schoolhouse Rock pilot, below.