While Bob Dorough isn’t exactly a household name, if you were a kid in the 1970s you definitely knew his voice and his music. A jazz musician who hailed from Texas, Dorough was the man behind most of the Schoolhouse Rock videos that we watched in our pajamas on Saturday morning while crunching our Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. He got the gig when somebody asked him to set the times tables to music to help kids remember them. The first short in the series, written and sung by Dorough, was Three is a Magic Number. It premiered on February 3, 1973.
Three is a Magic Number was followed by other numbers (Figure Eight was always my favorite), and who among us didn’t learn the Preamble to the Constitution by singing along? To this day, I can only recite it in rhythm. While Dorough didn’t write or perform every Schoolhouse Rock song, he acted as the series director from 1972-1996.
And, when he wasn’t teaching us about conjunctions, verbs, electricity and how a bill becomes a law three in three-minute master classes, Dorough was a gigging jazz musician, and even provided vocals for a Miles Davis song. After a lifetime of making music of all kinds and for all people, Dorough passed away on April 23 at age 94.
But the real brilliance of these videos is not just that they were teaching kids history, grammar and math in an approachable way, but they did so with fantastic, well-composed and well-crafted music in varying styles. Each one was unique, each brilliant in its own way. Aside from Figure Eight, here are a few of my personal favorites.