Schoolhouse Rock! was an animated, educational television program geared toward children. The program was the brilliant idea of David McCall of the McCaffrey & McCall advertising agency. McCall first came up with the great idea after noticing that his son was struggling in school; more specifically with memorizing the dreaded, “times table”. He also realized that his son had no problem memorizing the words to his favorite songs, so he came up with the clever idea of using music as a teaching tool.
Words set to catchy tunes were penned to help children with their studies and in the process to show them that education could be fun. The first show aired in 1972 and the rest followed from there. Between 1972 and 1979, thirty-seven episodes were recorded on a wide variety of curriculum. The first song ever written for Schoolhouse Rock! was, “Three is a Magic Number”.
Bob Dorough, a jazz bebop legend, was tasked with writing all of the songs and music for the “Multiplication Rock!” tunes. After the first song was released, artist, Tom Yohe began doodling pictures to go with the words. He then advised McCall that the songs would make for great animation.
Before Schoolhouse Rock! aired on television, it was intended to be written and released in workbook form. At the time, it was thought to have been an unfortunate disappointment when that deal fell through. They quickly regrouped and approached the ABC television network about picking up the show. They pitched their idea to the children’s programming division and they loved it!
Besides Dorough, Dave Frishberg, Lynn Ahrens as well as others got onboard and shared the writing. The jazzy voices of talented singers eventually got in the act including Jack Sheldon, Blossom Dearie and Grady Tate. The voices quickly became very recognizable to children everywhere.
Kids were singing the catchy songs and were actually learning something in the process. The show aired for 12 years and boasted many big-name sponsors. At the same time there were other educational programs targeting children, but Schoolhouse Rock! was the only one of its kind.
Kids were singing about things like American history, electricity, science, multiplication, grammar and how a bill becomes a law. It was a huge success. Schoolhouse Rock! even performed live and parents flocked with their children to see it!
Conveniently, the program was right on track to coincide with the American Bicentennial in 1976. Parents and teachers alike used the show as a tool and kids didn’t even realize that they were learning powerful lessons. It was similar to tricking kids in to eating their vegetables.
I remember watching Schoolhouse Rock! as a kid and can still hear the tunes in my head at times. I have been known to have sung a couple of the songs to my own kids when they were in elementary school; much to their listening displeasure. I will tell you though, that I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I learned a lot from the show. Kids these days have the internet at their fingertips and can pull out their phone to multiply numbers or to see what the properties of a sentence are. They can’t imagine some of the things from the school days of their parents and grandparents.
Schoolhouse Rock! aired for years and was a valuable contribution to the educational world. Even after original songs and episodes stopped being produced, it carried on for years in reruns. It had a long run and enjoyed a lot of success. I can honestly say that it is the reason I know what a conjunction is.
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