Believe it or not, Schoolhouse Rock is 40 years old. If you’re a child of the 1970s or ‘80s, you probably sat in front of a television on Saturday morning watching those little animated lessons that told us why that scrap of paper was loitering on the Capitol steps or the finer points of grammar.
To mark the anniversary, Weekend Edition Sunday spoke with Bob Dorough, who composed, conducted and even sang much of Schoolhouse Rock’s music. Dorough’s career didn’t begin in children’s television; a skilled singer and pianist, he started out playing with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Miles Davis.
“There I was in New York City, just trying to make a living,” Dorough tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “My jazz work was a little slow, and I was dabbling in advertising music, just to make ends meet. By then I was married and had a daughter, and so I needed that bread.”
That’s when his boss came to him with a problem: “My sons cannot memorize their times tables — yet they sing along with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, and they get their words,” Dorough recalls being told.
He was given a challenge: Set the multiplication tables to music. And what was meant to be a record-and-workbook package blossomed into “Multiplication Rock,” the very first series of Schoolhouse Rockshorts. To hear more of the story, click the audio link on this page.