The Who: Bobby McFerrin

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Robert "Bobby" McFerrin, Jr. (born March 11, 1950) is a vocalist and conductor. He is best known for his 1988 hit song "Don't Worry, Be Happy". He is a ten-time Grammy Award winner.


McFerrin was born in Manhattan, New York, the son of the late operatic baritone Robert McFerrin, and aspiring singer Sarah Cooper.[1] Robert, Sr. was the first African American to be a regular with New York's Metropolitan Opera.
Bobby McFerrin married Debbie Green in 1975. They have three children.[2]

Vocal technique

McFerrin switches rapidly and fluidly between normal and falsetto registers to create polyphonic effects, effectively performing both the main melody and the accompanying parts of songs. He makes use of vocal percussion created both with his mouth and by tapping on his chest. McFerrin is also capable of overtone singing — as used in his song "Drive" from the 2005 DVD Live in Montreal. Such skills made him one of the precursors in the area of beatboxing. A notable document of McFerrin's approach to singing is his 1984 album The Voice, the first solo vocal jazz album recorded with no accompaniment or overdubbing.[3]


McFerrin's song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was a #1 U.S. pop hit in 1988 and won Song of the Year and Record of the Year honors. McFerrin has also worked in collaboration with instrumental performers including pianists Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Zawinul, drummer Tony Williams, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

In 1987, he performed the theme song for the opening credits of Season 4 of The Cosby Show, and soon after also provided the music for a Cadburys chocolate commercial. In 1986, he was the voice of Santa Bear in "Santa Bear's First Christmas" and in 1987 he was the voice of Santa Bear/Bully Bear in the sequel "Santa Bear's High Flying Adventure".

In 1989, he composed and performed the music for the Pixar short film Knick Knack. The rough cut to which McFerrin recorded his vocals had the words "blah blah blah" in place of the end credits (meant to indicate that he should improvise). McFerrin spontaneously decided to sing "blah blah blah" as lyrics, and the final version of the short film includes these lyrics during the end credits.

Also in 1989, he formed a ten-person 'Voicestra' which he featured on both his 1990 album Medicine Music and in the score to the 1989 Oscar-winning documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt. The song 'Common Threads' has frequently reappeared in some public service advertisements for AIDS. McFerrin also performed with the Vocal Summit

In 1993, he also sang Henry Mancini's Pink Panther theme tune for the movie Son of the Pink Panther. In addition to his vocal performing career, Mr. McFerrin was appointed in 1994 as creative chair of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He makes regular tours as a guest conductor for symphony orchestras throughout the United States and Canada, including the San Francisco Symphony (on his 40th birthday), the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic and many others. In his concert appearances, he combines serious conducting of classical pieces with his own unique vocal improvisations, often with participation from the audience and the orchestra. For example, his concerts often end with McFerrin conducting the orchestra in an a cappella rendition of the "William Tell Overture," in which the orchestra members sing their musical parts in McFerrin's vocal style, instead of playing their parts on their instruments.

McFerrin also participates in various music education programs, and makes volunteer appearances as a guest music teacher and lecturer at public schools throughout the U.S. McFerrin has a son, Taylor, and father and son have collaborated on various musical ventures. Taylor has recently been singing, rapping, and playing minimal keyboard accompaniment with Vernon Reid (leader-guitarist of Living Colour) in the eclectic metal-fusion-funk-etc. group Yohimbe Brothers.


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