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Bob Dorough, the Man Behind the Music of ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ Dies at 94

MOUNT BETHEL, Pa. — Bob Dorough, the man responsible for some of the most beloved tunes on the cartoon series “Schoolhouse Rock!” died Monday at his home in Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania.  Dorough was 94.

In the YouTube video below, Dorough can be seen performing “Conjunction Junction” at the The Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, PA.

Dorough made other appearances in the Poconos, including East Stroudsburg University and various jazz festivals in the region, according to the Morning Call.

The jazz pianist and vocalist was approached in 1971 by a New York advertising executive whose sons could not multiply. He asked him to set the multiplication tables to music.

Dorough ended up writing “Three’s a Magic Number” and other well known videos. He also voiced many of them.

Dorough would receive requests from adults to sing some of the bits because they grew up on them — often times recognizing his voice.

“I am not surprised at all (that the videos still resonate),” Dorough told CNN in 2013. “I learned, when performing at elementary schools, that they were ‘getting through,’ so to speak, and the children would readily recognize my voice on such vocals as ‘Three is a Magic Number,’ and others that I sang.

“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.”

“Schoolhouse Rock” premiered on Jan. 13, 1973, and ran on ABC from 1973-1985. It came back in the 1990s for five more years. More than 30 million people have now watched some of them on YouTube, showing that Dorough’s work still resonates.

It is not just the catchy words that connected with kids. They were combined with interesting visuals.

One spot featured a talking “bill” that explained to a boy how he could only become a law by passing both houses of Congress and then going to the White House hoping the president would sign him.

“Conjunction Junction” used train cars named “and,” “but” and “or” that illustrated how a conjunction connected words.

Asked why the videos connected, Dorough said, “The melodies, words, arrangements, and players. That is to say, even though they were in a ‘rock’ or ‘pop’ bag, my jazz sensibilities and the fine musicians I used for the audio recordings made the songs seem unusual to the Saturday morning cartoon listeners.”

Just last week, there was a vivid example of just how popular the videos remain.

More than a thousand people — adults who wanted to relive part of their childhood and parents who wanted to share the fun with their kids — jammed into the lobby of the Kennedy Center to hear Dorough sing “Three’s a Magic Number” and “Figure Eight is Double 4.”

“I came because I had such fond, intense memories,” said Amy Augenblick, who brought her 9-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. “I could sing all of it without the words.”

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