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‘Schoolhouse Rock’ composer Bob Dorough, RIP

Lynn Lane
photo: Lynn Lane

Bob Dorough, the jazz musician who wrote many of the best-loved Schoolhouse Rock songs, has died at age 94. He wrote all of the Multiplication Rock series (including “Three is a Magic Number,” famously sampled by De La Soul), and Grammar Rock classics “Conjunction Junction” and “Lolly, Lolly Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” as well as songs for America Rock, Science Rock, Money Rock, and Earth Rock. He sang on many of them too. From NPR:

Dorough collaborated with [Miles] Davis on the serrated holiday song “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)” and later sang on “Nothing Like You,” the closing track of Davis’ 1967 album Sorcerer. As critic Ben Ratliff wrote in notes accompanying a vinyl reissue of Sorcerer last fall: “The trumpeter Leron Thomas recently told me that he thinks of it as Miles’s version of a Looney Tunes move: ‘That’s All, Folks.’ ”

Then, in 1971, with the jazz money running thin, Dorough was asked by his boss at the advertising company where he had a day job for to set the multiplication tables to music; his boss cited his children’s ability to remember Hendrix and Rolling Stones lyrics, but not their school lessons.

“I got the idea that three is a magic number,” Dorough told NPR’s Rachel Martin in 2013. “Then I looked in the magic book and sure enough, three is one of the magic numbers.” That concept became the song “Three Is a Magic Number” and the project would become the Grammy-nominated Multiplication Rock.

Rest in peace, Bob. You taught millions of kids (most of whom still remember the words) and your music lives on.

Watch a few of Bob’s most famous Schoolhouse Rock clips, and listen to ’90s indie rock tribute Schoolhouse Rocks Rocks (with Pavement, The Lemonheads, Biz Markie and more), below.

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