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Sat, 03.11.1950

Bobby McFerrin, Vocalist born

Bobby McFerrin

*Bobby McFerrin was born on this date in 1950. He is a Black vocalist, musician, and composer.

Born to two classical singers in New York City, his father was Robert McFerrin Sr.  Robert McFerrin Jr. began studying musical theory at age 6, shortly before his family relocated to Los Angeles. The piano was his primary instrument in high school and during his studies at California State University/Sacramento and Cerritos College. After completing his formal education, he began to tour, first with the Ice Follies and then with a series of "Top 40" bands, cabaret acts, and dance troupes.

In 1977, he was inspired to become a singer. After a period in New Orleans with a band called Astral Projection, he moved to San Francisco where, among other important contacts, he met Bill Cosby, who arranged for McFerrin's debut at the Hollywood Bowl as part of the 1980 Playboy Jazz Festival.  A triumph in New York at the Kool Jazz Festival followed a year later, and shortly thereafter, in May 1982, he released his debut album, Bobby McFerrin. In 1983 after touring with his band, McFerrin began unaccompanied concerts. This led to a solo tour of Germany, where the live album The Voice was recorded. This album showcased McFerrin's pioneering Cappella excursions.

He continues to present solo concerts in the world's most prestigious venues throughout his career. Through the 1980s, he expanded his circle of collaboration with Garrison Keillor, Jack Nicholson, Joe Zawinul, Manhattan Transfer, Herbie Hancock, Jon Hendricks, Wayne Shorter, and Robin Williams. He was featured in popular television commercials, sang the weekly theme for The Cosby Show, and the theme for Bertrand Tavernier's film 'Round Midnight, another Grammy-winning performance. McFerrin then had additional commercial success as a one-man vocal with his multi-tracked multi-platinum album Simple Pleasures (1988), which included the worldwide, chart-topping single and video "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

He made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony on his fortieth birthday and has since gone on to repeat engagements, conducting every major orchestra, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, and many others. He has also conducted a concert version of Porgy and Bess with the Opera Carolina and at the Mann Centre. He has also appeared at the Ravinia, Aspen, Blossom, and Verbier Festivals. The 1990 release of Medicine Music demonstrated McFerrin's skills as an orchestra leader, especially in his work with the group Voicestra. With that ten-voice group, he appeared on Today, Arsenio Hall, and Evening at Pops.

Also, in 1992 he released a jazz album, Play, which featured pianist Chick Corea in a mix of standards and original collaborations and won McFerrin his tenth Grammy Award. His 1993 on-camera, five-voice a cappella rendition of Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther Theme" won him wide acclaim and another Grammy nomination. McFerrin continues to explore and challenge himself in musical styles and forms. His release, Circlesongs, is the result of solo and group vocal explorations that have evolved McFerrin's version of chant and sacred music. Created with twelve highly accomplished singers from diverse vocal disciplines, it is steeped in an oral tradition that dates back centuries to tribal gatherings.  For McFerrin, "One of the simplest and most direct ways of praying and meditating is through singing, and singing in community is exceptionally powerful."

His album Hush was recorded with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and released in 1992. In addition to his numerous outside conducting activities, McFerrin is part of the artistic leadership of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, which he joined in April of 1994 as Creative Chair. His conducting activities with that orchestra include subscription series, tours, and other special concerts, and he has been instrumental in the development of CONNECT, the orchestra's educational and outreach program. In June 1995, he released his first classical album, Paper Music, recorded with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The album features McFerrin conducting (and singing) the music of Mendelssohn, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky, among others.

In 1996 his efforts to bring new and younger audiences to classical music earned him media coverage unprecedented for a musician. He was honored as the ABC News "Person of the Week" with an entire Nightline program devoted to his work and a feature on 60 Minutes. The same year he appeared as host and performer in the PBS special Loosely Mozart, conducting the Orchestra of St. Luke's with pianist Chick Corea in a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20, singing a selection from Hush with Yo-Yo Ma and performing in a special contribution to pianist Marcus Roberts' interpretation of Rhapsody in Blue.

His conducting schedule for the 1999-2000 seasons included engagements with the orchestras of Baltimore, Chicago, Montreal, Oregon, Seattle, and Toronto, as well as a Young People's Concert with the New York Philharmonic. In Europe, he leads the Munich Radio Orchestra on a German tour, returns to the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and makes his debut with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

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 and his son Taylor have collaborated on various musical ventures.  He is during the summer of 2007 at the Omega Institute conducting.

In 2009, McFerrin and psychologist Daniel Levitin hosted The Music Instinct, a two-hour documentary produced by PBS and based on Levitin's best-selling book This Is Your Brain on Music.   McFerrin was given a lifetime achievement award at the A Cappella Music Awards on May 19, 2018. McFerrin was honored with the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award on August 20, 2020.

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