|Born||Robert Lrod Dorough
December 12, 1923
Cherry Hill, Arkansas
|Occupation||Pianist, singer, composer, songwriter, arranger and producer|
He worked with Miles Davis and Blossom Dearie, and his adventurous style was an influence on Mose Allison, among other singers. He is perhaps best known as the primary composer of and performer of many of the songs used in Schoolhouse Rock!, a series of educational animated shorts appearing on Saturday morning television in the 1970s and 1980s on ABC affiliates in the United States. He has released vocal jazz albums periodically over the last 50 years; his latest, Eulalia, came out in 2014.
Dorough was born in Arkansas and grew up in Texas. He played in a "Special Services Army Band Unit, gaining much professional experience as arranger, clarinetist, saxophonist, pianist, and entertainer" during World War II. After that, he attended the College of Music at North Texas State University, where he majored in composition and minored in piano.
He moved to New York City around 1950 and attended classes at Columbia University there. and was playing piano in a Times Square tap dance studio when he was introduced to the professional boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, who had temporarily left boxing and was putting together a song and dance revue. Dorough was hired and later became the show's music director; the revue traveled to various US cities and then to Europe.
Dorough left Robinson in Paris and lived there from 1954 to 1955, recording with singer Blossom Dearie during that time. He returned to the United States and moved to Los Angeles, California, where he played various gigs, including a job between sets by comedian Lenny Bruce. Dorough released his first album, Devil May Care, in 1956. It contained a version of "Yardbird Suite" with lyrics by Dorough over the famous Charlie Parker song. Trumpeter Miles Davis liked the album, so when Columbia asked Davis to record a Christmas song in 1962, Davis turned to Dorough for lyrics and singing duties. The result was a downbeat tune called "Blue Xmas," released on Columbia's Jingle Bell Jazz compilation. During that session Dorough recorded another song for Davis, "Nothing Like You," which appeared a few years later at the end of the Sorcerer album, making Dorough one of the few musicians with a vocal performance on a Miles Davis record.
Dorough had a producing partnership for many years with Stu Scharf. They were best known for producing two albums for the folk-pop band Spanky and Our Gang, adding jazz-influenced arrangements to their sound.
1970s to 1990s
Through Ben Tucker, Dorough was approached in the early 1970s by advertiser David McCall and asked to put multiplication tables to music. The result was "Three Is a Magic Number", the first song for what would become Schoolhouse Rock!. Dorough remained with the show from 1973 to 1985.
He continued to do occasional work intended for children, with the 2005 publication of Circumstantial Productions' illustrated book version of "Blue Xmas" and the three eponymous songs he wrote in 2011 to accompany Maureen Sullivan's books about Carlos the French bulldog: Ankle Soup, Custard and Mustard and Christmas Feet.
Honors and awards
In December 2007, Dorough was honored by East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania with a Doctor of Fine Arts honorary degree. He has received the Pennsylvania Governor's Artist of the Year Award and was named to the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame.
Dorough resides in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania.
Albums, as leader
- An Excursion Through "Oliver!": Songs from the Hit Show (1954)
- Devil May Care (Bethlehem, 1957)
- The Medieval Jazz Quartet Plus Three (MMO/Classic Editions, 1961)
- Just About Everything (Focus, 1966)
- A Taste of Honey (Music Minus One, 1972)
- Multiplication Rock (Capitol, 1973) [Dorough performed most of the songs on this, the first Schoolhouse Rock! album, as well as composing and writing all of them.]
- Beginning to See the Light (with Bill Takas, Laissez-Faire, 1976)
- Devil May Care II (52e Rue Est, 1982)
- Sing And Swing (with Bill Takas, Red, 1984)
- Clankin' on Tin Pan Alley (with Bill Takas, Bloomdido, 1986)
- Songs of Love (Orange Blue, 1988)
- Skabadabba (Pinnacle, 1987)
- To Communicate (1987)
- Formerly Not For Sale (1987)
- This is a Recording (Laissez-Faire, 1990)
- Memorial Charlie Parker (with Bill Takas, 1992)
- Right on My Way Home (Blue Note, 1997)
- Too Much Coffee Man (Blue Note, 2000)
- Who's On First? (with Dave Frishberg, Blue Note, 2000)
- Sunday At Iridium (Arbors, 2004)
- The Houston Branch (Dees Bees, 2005)
- Small Day Tomorrow (Candid, 2006)
- Duets (COTAjazz, 2012)
- Eulalia (Merry Lane, 2014)
Singles, as leader
- "Ankle Soup" (2011)
- "Christmas Feet" (2011)
- "Custard and Mustard" (2011)
- "'P' is for the People" (2011)
Albums, as sideman or one of multiple contributors
- Sam Most: Bebop Revisited, Vol. 3 (Xanadu, 1953) (Piano)
- Buddy Banks Quartet: Jazz in Paris - Buddy Banks/Bobby Jaspar - Jazz de Chambre (Emarcy, 1956) (Piano)
- Sam Most: Sam Most Plays Bird, Bud, Monk and Miles (Bethlehem, 1957)
- Miles Davis: Sorcerer (Columbia, 1967)
- Harold Danko: Alone But Not Forgotten (Sunnyside, 1985/86)
- John Zorn - Naked City: Grand Guignol (Avant, 1992)
- Michael Hornstein: Innocent Gem (Enja, 1995)
- Various: Jazzmass (COTA, 1995)
- Blossom Dearie: I'm Hip (Columbia, 1998)
- Various: The Reasons for Christmas Project (PATH, 2003)
- Nellie McKay: Obligatory Villagers (Vanguard, 2007)
See also the many other Schoolhouse Rock! recordings, to each of which Dorough was one of several contributors.
[Dates are dates of first release.]
- Dorough, Bob (November 2003). "A St. Louis Sojourn". BobDorough.com.
- Bob Dorough Filmography at The New York Times
- "The Voice Of 'Schoolhouse Rock' On The Series At 40". NPR.org (National Public Radio). 6 January 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
- "Bob Dorough: Bio". BobDorough.com. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
- Giddins, Gary (9 May 2000). "Bob Dorough Endures". Village Voice. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
- The 44th Street Portable Flower Factory at discogs.com