A young generation befuddled by math began to learn the multiplication tables by singing "Three is a Magic Number." That song, by Bob Dorough, first ran on children's shows as a three-minute animation. The response was so positive that "Schoolhouse Rock!" was born. The resulting series of educational films airing on television from 1973 to 1985 was boosted by parents and teachers alike.

Adults of today who memorized the songs of "Schoolhouse Rock!" have passed them along to their own children. Both generations are expected to fill the Kennedy Center when the 40th anniversary of the educational series is celebrated by a joyful sing-along encouraged by Rocknoceros, Washington's beloved three-man ensemble of Coach Cotton, Williebob and Boogie Woogie Bennie.

'Schoolhouse Rock!' 40th Anniversary Sing-along
Where: Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Info: Free; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

"We all grew up in Fairfax and have known each other since childhood," said Coach Cotton, who earned his name by coaching local sports teams. "When I took my own children to Jammin' Java and saw the excited crowd of parents and children reacting to one person playing a guitar, I decided to start a band for children. Boogie Woogie Bennie plays a mean piano and drums with both feet and hands working at the same time. Williebob plays a guitar and just about every other instrument. I play percussion, and we all sing and compose. We began entertaining for fun with no idea how popular we would become within a short time."

Since Rocknoceros debuted in 2005, it performs 1,300 to 1,400 shows a year, appears on Cox TV and has national recognition. All three members have long since abandoned their jobs and focus on making videos and writing new material inspired by things children say or do. Although their busy weekend schedules sometimes leave little time to chat with the children and their parents before heading to the next gig, they are thrilled to see familiar faces in the audience time and again and to discover how well children have learned to sing and play their songs since the last visit.

"We have a great reputation with families because our songs are good and get in touch with topics children can grasp," Coach Cotton said. "And because children always need transportation to our shows, parents and other adults who drive them are familiar with us and the creativity we offer, from amusing lyrics to chord progression. We're excited about performing some of the favorite songs from 'Schoolhouse Rock!' and greeting many of our fans at its 40th Anniversary Sing-along."