McFerrin, Bobby (actually, Robert)

views updated

McFerrin, Bobby (actually, Robert)

McFerrin, Bobby (actually, Robert ), gifted black American vocalist and conductor, son of Robert McFerrin; b. N.Y., March 11, 1950. He studied theory from the age of 6 and played piano in high school, forming a quartet that copied the styles of Henry Mancini and Sergio Mendes. In 1970 he heard Miles Davis’s fusion album Bitches Brew and completely changed his musical direction. He studied music at Sacramento State Univ. and at Cerritos Coll.; then played piano professionally until 1977, when he began to develop his voice; toured in 1980 with jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks, and debuted a solo act in 1982. His recordings include Bobby McFerrin (1982), The Voice (1984), Spontaneous Improvisation (1986), Simple Pleasures (1988; includes the song Don’t Worry, Be Happy, which made him a household name), and Medicine Music (1991); he also made several music videos and sang with Herbie Hancock, Yo-Yo Ma, Manhattan Transfer, and others. In 1989 he created the sound track for Common Threads, a 1989 documentary on the AIDS quilt. McFerrin began studying conducting in 1989, making his debut with a performance of Beethoven’s Sym. No. 7 with the San Francisco Sym. on March 11, 1990. From 1994 to 1996 he held the Creative Chair of the St. Paul (Minn.) Chamber Orch. Technically, McFerrin is a virtuoso, using a remarkable range of voices with sophisticated control and accompanying them with body percussion, breath, and other self-generated sounds. Aesthetically, he fuses a number of musical styles, including jazz, rock, and New Age, in a brilliant palette; his solo and ensemble shows are based on various improvisatory structures through which he produces highly polished, expertly burnished works.


Bobby McFerrin (1982); The Voice (1984); Spontaneous Inventions (1985); Spontaneous (1986); Simple Pleasures (1988); Play (1990); Medicine Man (1990); Hush (1991); Paper Music (1995); Bang! Zoom (1996); Mozart Sessions (1996); Circlesongs (1997).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire