On January 13, 1973, a three-minute animated video entitled “My Hero, Zero” seemed to magically appear between Saturday morning cartoon programs such as Superfriends and Yogi’s Gang and The Roadrunner Show. Thus began Schoolhouse Rock, a series of two to three insterstitial, educational minutes about math, grammar, science, economics, history or civics.
Bob Dorough, who just turned 89, wrote and voiced much of the original Schoolhouse material. It started when David McCall, a Madison Avenue adman, called to offer Dorough a job. Dorough was hoping McCall needed a little jingle that would be easy to write and pay him well. Instead, McCall told Bob that although his little boys could sing along with Jimi Hendriz and the Rolling Stones, they could not multiply. McCall asked him if he could write something cool, catchy and informative but would not talk down to kids. Two weeks later, Bob returned with Three Is a Magic Number.
Thirty-seven episodes were recorded and produced between 1972 and 1980. The first season debuted in 1973 and was called Multiplication Rock. All the episodes dealt with the multiplication tables from two through twelve, with one dedicated to powers of ten (My Hero, Zero) instead of multiples of ten. This series was quickly followed by a new series entitled Grammar Rock, which ran from 1973 to 1975. This new series discussed nouns, verbs and adjectives as well as one of the most well-known titles of the entire series, Conjunction Junction.
A third series, American Rock, aired in 1975 and 1976 to coincide with the United States bicentennial. The episodes covered the structure of the U.S. government such as I’m Just a Bill as well as important moments in American history like The Preamble and Mother Necessity.
The fourth series, Science Rock, followed in 1978 and 1979. It included a broad range of science-related topics as Interplanet Janet, Do the Circulation, The Body Machine, The Energy Blues, Electricity and E-Lec-Tri-City.
Computer Rock featured characters Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips. This fifth series was the only set to feature any recurring characters and premiered in the early 1980s. There were four segments about personal computer technology, just emerging on the scent at the time. Due to the rapid advance of technology, the series was never rerun after 1984.
Although the original series left the airwaves in 1985, two more Grammar Rock segments were produced in 1993, Busy Prepositions and The Tale of Mr. Morton. Money Rock followed in 1995. It discussed money management topics on both the personal and governmental scale. This series aired in rotation with the original segments from 1994 to 1996.
The series, as a whole, ceased airing in 2000. Newer episodes such as I’m Going to Send Your Vote to College, Schoolhouse Rock! Election Collection and Schoolhouse Rock!: Earth were released directly to home video.
On Sunday, January 6, 2013, Bob Dorough appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. as part of an ongoing series of free concerts on the Millennium Stage. He played the piano for himself and performed five songs: Three Is a Magic Number, Figure Eight, Conjunction Junction, Preamble and I’m Just a Bill. He also performed Interjections! while accompanied by a D.C.-area kids’ band, Rocknoceros.
Thank you, Schoolhouse Rock, for having such a positive impact on my daughter’s – and her generation’s – elementary education.