Songwriter Dave Frishberg, of ‘I’m Just a Bill’ fame, dies at 88

The Capitol is seen from the East Front Plaza on Thursday, October 28, 2021.
Julia Nikhinson

Singer and songwriter David Frishberg, who wrote the well-known “Schoolhouse Rock!” song “I’m Just a Bill,” died Wednesday in Portland, Ore., at 88. 

His wife, April Magnusson, confirmed his death, according to The New York Times.

Frishberg, born in St. Paul, Minn., moved to New York in 1957 to work at a radio station and later became a solo jazz pianist. He worked with several notable artists, including Carmen McRae, Anita O’Day and Judy Garland, the Times reported. 

Frishberg began writing songs in the early 1960s and published his first tune, “Peel Me a Grape,” in 1962. While it did not reach broad audiences, the Times noted that it launched Frishberg’s career as a songwriter.

Frishberg continued to write music and wrote the song “I’m Hip,” in 1967, next to fellow jazz songwriter Bob Dorough. He even started singing his compositions, which led him to release his own album, “Oklahoma Toad,” in 1970. 

The songwriter moved to Los Angeles in 1975 and began to write material for the NBC show “The Funny Side,” starring Gene Kelly. While the show lasted only nine episodes, Frishberg also began to perform his songs regularly in jazz clubs, according to the Times.

Frishberg was later invited to contribute to “Schoolhouse Rock!” Frishberg’s first contribution, “I’m Just a Bill,” premiered in the show’s third season. The song, sung by jazz trumpeter and vocalist Jack Sheldon, explains the legislative process. It brought Frishberg unexpected praise, and he later acknowledged it to be his “most well-known song,” according to the Times. 

In 1982, Frishberg received a Grammy Award nomination for best male jazz vocal performance for “The Dave Frishberg Songbook, Volume No. 1.” The following year, “The Dave Frishberg Songbook, Volume No. 2”  was also nominated.

Frishberg later moved to Portland in 1986.

He is survived by his wife and two sons, Harry and Max. 

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