Question: I recently bought my daughter some Schoolhouse Rock tapes and only now realize how cool a lot of that music was. Who were the people behind the songs? Were they real musicians? Thanks. — Honor Roller, New Hope, Pa.
Televisionary: Why, yes, they were, Roller. And frankly, they were teachers, too. Heck, I'd still be struggling with A Duck Is a Duck, Helicopters and Gingerbread and The Dog Next Door if it wasn't for those guys and their solid Rock.
In terms of the musicians, I can cover those who did the lion's share of the tunes. The musical director was jazz pianist (as many have pointed out, much of the "rock" is actually jazz) Bob Dorough, who penned nearly all of the "Multiplication Rock" tunes and many others, and sang classics like "My Hero, Zero," "Lucky Seven Sampson" and "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here." Lynn Ahrens started as a secretary at McCaffrey and McCall, the ad agency that created and produced Schoolhouse Rock, and was asked to take a crack at a few Schoolhouse songs when people heard her playing her guitar on lunch breaks. That shot led to her creating such favorites as "Interjections!," "A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing" (both of which she sang) and "Elbow Room."
Jazz musician Jack Sheldon contributed some of the most memorable vocals, singing "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill," while lending his voice to several more. Other song writers and performers included Blossom Dearie, Grady Tate, Essra Mohawk, Dave Frishberg and George Newall.
The level of talent involved in the series is impressive. Dorough played with such greats as Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong and sang with Miles Davis. Sheldon's résumé includes work with legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Chet Baker and Stan Kenton. For her part, Ahrens launched a career that includes writing the Broadway musicals Once on This Island, My Favorite Year and Ragtime.
Not bad for a small idea sparked when adman David McCall's son had trouble remembering his multiplication tables and colleagues Newall and Thomas Yohe, who died late last year, helped bring the concept to life with music and animation. With the help of Michael Eisner, who worked for ABC at the time and was looking to boost educational programming for kids to keep the FCC happy, Schoolhouse Rock was born and many of us had an easier time with math, english, history and science because of it.
"Darn! That's the end."