McFerrin, Robert , black American baritone, father of Bobby (actually, Robert) McFerrin; b. Marianna, Ariz., March 19, 1921. He studied at Fisk Univ. in Nashville, Chicago Musical Coll. (B.M., 1948), and Kathryn Turney Long School in N.Y In 1949 he appeared in Weill’s Lost in the Stars, in Still’s Troubled Island (with the N.Y.C. Opera), and as Amonasro in Aida (with Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Co.); joined the New England Opera Co. in 1950, creating roles in Marc Connelly’s play The Green Pastures (N.Y, 1951; music by Hall Johnson) and My Darlin’ Aida (1952), a version of Verdi’s opera set in the time of the Confederacy. He won the Metropolitan Auditions of the Air in 1953; became the first black male to join the company, making his debut on Jan. 27, 1955, as Amonasro. After singing in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo, he sang the role of Porgy (played by Sidney Poitier) in the film version of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1959); also sang on the recording. He toured internationally, giving recitals of arias, art songs, and spirituals.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire