Singer Nellie McKay Celebrates Bob Dorough Of 'Schoolhouse Rock' : All Songs Considered McKay covers Dorough's "Small Day Tomorrow" on her upcoming album, Sister Orchid. She and the late composer, known his work on the beloved Schoolhouse Rock! series, were longtime friends.
NPR logo Singer Nellie McKay Celebrates Bob Dorough Of 'Schoolhouse Rock'

Singer Nellie McKay Celebrates Bob Dorough Of 'Schoolhouse Rock'

Singer Nellie McKay with her longtime friend, Bob Dorough. The late composer was known as the musical keystone of the beloved Schoolhouse Rock! series. Garth Woods /Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Garth Woods /Courtesy of the artist

Singer Nellie McKay with her longtime friend, Bob Dorough. The late composer was known as the musical keystone of the beloved Schoolhouse Rock! series.

Garth Woods /Courtesy of the artist

I learned about the passing of Bob Dorough of Schoolhouse Rock! fame while simultaneously discovering that musician Nellie McKay had a long friendship with him. The two had known each other since she was 14-years-old and she just recently recorded one of his songs for her upcoming album, Sister Orchid.

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Today we have a premiere of Nellie playing that song, "Small Day Tomorrow." She also shares her memories of their friendship and mutual love of songs and life:

"I was very lucky to have grown up around jazz greats and the Celebration of the Arts Jazz Festival in the Pocono Mountains. I met Bob Dorough on a lazy afternoon by the Delaware. He was strolling by wearing dapper slacks with a neat-lookin' sailor shirt topped with a tan boater, his signature ponytail bobbing slightly in the lilting breeze. I was watching the wildlife playing in the dappled water. He stopped and we giggled a little at the sweet hijinks of the frisky ducks. With the heart of a born opportunist I asked him if he would help me with my French for the new Phil Woods arrangement of 'Autumn Leaves' and he sat down right there, quick and dainty as a polecat, going over accents aigu with the proper Gallic disdain. I thanked him and he dove into the water fully clothed, his powerful breaststroke aimed right towards [his wife] Sally, perched on the opposite shore with her arms outstretched, looking for all the world like Helen of Troy.

"Bob was always a friend – always a gentleman. He had a powerful love of music and joyful jammin'. Effervescent with southern joie de vivre and nimble fingers, he could be both straightforward and sly, dishing out fragrant melodies and spicy chords with killer aplomb. For 20 years, I could never keep up with his playing or purposeful strut. To the end he had the energy of a teenager and the psychology of a punk.

"The song 'Small Day Tomorrow' is a ramshackle anthem for those shucking the jive of 'civil' society while escaping into the night from the proper, deadly, proscribed existence foisted on us from cradle to grave. It offers an honest appraisal of smug success and the willful obliviousness of 'winners' - their decadent cluelessness and preening delusion. [Philosopher] J. Krishnamurti wrote, 'it is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.' Turn your back on the cold light of day and embrace the warmth of a shot glass. The deck is stacked and all is lost so [we] might as well be merry while ye may. 'Good people are always so sure they're right.' [Those] were the last words of Barbara Graham, who became the third woman executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin. Society functions well on the smooth dispensation of fumes of potassium cyanide. It's a den of thieves stretching up to the sky. Better to stick with the small time."