What started in the seventies became a cult favorite among kids by the eighties. School House Rock was a Saturday morning staple on ABC…well that and your cereal of choice. Nothing personified my youth like this show, which incidentally, only ran for about three minutes between your regularly scheduled programming, but in that three minutes and without you even knowing it, you were learning your times tables, grammar and history. Come afternoon and you’ve just finished watching Soul Train and your out in the street playing, you were humming the tunes from SHR. That was downloading back in the day. Today marks the 40th Anniversary of School House Rock and today NPR spoke to Bob Dorough who wrote and sang a lot of the music that was featured on School House Rock.
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 Rock shorts. To hear more of the story, click the audio link on this page.