Bob Dorough (1923–2018)
Robert Lrod Dorough was a composer, lyricist, and musician best known for his jazz compositions and 1970s Schoolhouse Rock! shorts on ABC Saturday morning television.
Bob Dorough was born on December 12, 1923, in Cherry Hill (Polk County), the oldest of four children of Robert Lee Dorough, who was an automobile and insurance salesman, and Alma Audrey Lewis, a housewife and Singer sewing machine instructor. Dorough’s unusual middle name was suggested by his aunt. He attended elementary schools in De Queen (Sevier County), Mena (Polk County), and Texarkana (Miller County) and graduated from Plainview High School in Plainview, Texas, where the family moved in 1934. The Plainview High School bandmaster inspired Dorough musically and gave him free lessons in harmony and the clarinet to complement his previous training in violin, piano, and singing.
Dorough attended three semesters at Texas Tech University before being drafted into the U.S. Army in February 1943. Because of a punctured eardrum, present since childhood, he was placed in limited service and was never sent overseas. He received a medical discharge in December 1945. While in a military Special Services band, Dorough wrote many arrangements and played in various musical groups. Dorough returned to school after his discharge and earned a Bachelor of Music degree from North Texas State Teachers College (now University of North Texas) in 1949. He moved to New York City after graduation to pursue a master’s degree from Columbia University but dropped out before completion after his GI Bill funds were depleted.
Dorough married Jacqueline Wright in 1945. They divorced in 1953. He married Ruth Corine Meinert in 1960; they had one daughter. Meinert died of cancer in 1986. Dorough married Sally Shanley in 1994.
After leaving Columbia University, Dorough supported himself as a piano player. In 1952, he met boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson, who was learning a tap routine at the Henry LeTang Dance School. The retired boxer hired Dorough to be his music director in his new career in show business, and they toured Canada and the United States, with Dorough either at the piano or conducting big bands for Robinson’s act. They went to Paris, France, where Dorough remained after Robinson decided to return to the boxing ring, playing nightly at the Mars Club, a famous Right Bank boîte, for six months (1954–1955).
Dorough’s first song to be recorded was “Devil May Care,” written with Terrell Kirk. It was recorded in 1953 by the Les Elgart Band. His first full-length album, also titled Devil May Care, was a jazz album issued by Bethlehem Records in 1956. He recorded and released more than fifteen solo albums and was featured on more than twenty albums by different artists, including Miles Davis and Blossom Dearie. Dorough also dabbled in acting, appearing in one episode of the television series Have Gun, Will Travel (1959), in the movie Chasers (1994), as well as voicing (uncredited) a character for the animated television series Drawn Together (2005).
In 1971, Dorough was commissioned by David B. McCall, president of a New York advertising company, to set the multiplication tables to music to make learning numbers easier. He wrote and recorded eleven songs for McCall, including “Three Is a Magic Number.” McCall approved the release of the songs for a commercial album, titled Multiplication Rock, which was issued by Capitol Records in 1973.
The advertising executives considered ideas for tie-ins with the album, settling finally on an animated adaptation, drawn by Tom Yohe. The idea was pitched to television network ABC, which at the time was looking for more kid-friendly materials for the Saturday morning schedule. The network’s head of children’s programming approved the three-minute skits, which the General Mills company sponsored. The first four segments of Schoolhouse Rock! premiered on ABC on January 6, 1973, with “My Hero Zero,” “Elementary, My Dear,” “Three Is a Magic Number,” and “The Four-Legged Zoo.” Following “Multiplication Rock” came “Grammar Rock,” which featured songs such as “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here”; “History Rock” (originally known as “America Rock”), featuring “Mother Necessity”; and “Science Rock.” Dorough wrote twenty-two of the fifty-two songs for the series, including the series theme song “Schoolhouse Rocky.” He served as musical director for the series, which ran on ABC’s Saturday morning lineup from 1973 to 1985. The network began re-running the series in 1993.
Dorough continued to produce jazz albums and perform around the world. He died on April 23, 2018, at the age of ninety-four.
For additional information:
Giddins, Gary. “Bob Dorough Endures.” The Village Voice, May 16, 2000, p. 130.
“The Voice of Schoolhouse Rock on the Series at 40.” NPR Music, January 6, 2013. http://www.npr.org/2013/01/06/168699556/the-voice-of-schoolhouse-rock-on-the-series-at-40 (accessed April 20, 2022).
Timothy G. Nutt
University of Arkansas Libraries
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