Schoolhouse Rock taught millions of children about grammar, civics and math -- without many of them even realizing it. We hear from the man who wrote many of those catchy tunes -- Bob Dorough, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday. He tells us the backstory to many of the program's most popular songs -- and, he performs "Three Is A Magic Number" and "Conjunction Junction" live in the studio.
On how Schoolhouse Rock began:
This gentleman who had a lot of money and a good idea said his sons couldn't memorize the times tables -- and so he'd like me to put the multiplication tables to music. That's how it started. First we made an album, it was only meant to be something for libraries and schools, but the animator went to work drawing little doodles and suddenly they sent it to ABC television -- and we were on TV. I became the musical director. Who ever though it would last 40 years or even a season?
On "Three Is A Magic Number":
Never mind multiplying by three, that's easy, but how about [the idea of] "three" -- all those trinities. So I tried to work in the heart, the brain, the body...faith, hope and charity...the present, the past, the future."
On his jazz background:
One of my friend's said "you didn't write Schoolhouse Rock, you wrote Schoolhouse Jazz!" I used to hire my pals in the jazz world to play the tracks, so there was all kinds of extra flavors - and it swung, man, it swung.
On writing grammar songs:
When we got into grammar we were all buying grammar books and discovering that there aren't really any rules. You have to wing your way. So we were all studying grammar -- the staff of writers, the great Lynn Ahrens, who wrote the very first grammar song that was animated, "A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing." We picked up much more direction after multiplication -- I had a free hand, we weren't on television, no one knew what we were doing. I had a great time having my own way. After that, the network came in with standards, practices and all that.
On people requesting Schoolhouse Rock songs at his jazz shows:
It started during my nightclub days, after it had been on television about 10 years. The kids have grown up and they're waiting tables in jazz bars, and they say, "your voice sounds kind of familiar." I say, "yeah that was me," and they say, "can we have one?" And soon enough me and the waiters are doing "Three is Magic Number" and "Conjunction Junction."
On looking back at 40 years:
It's all manna to my soul when I meet all these young people who say "I couldn't have got through school without you."