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One-Hit Wonders: Bobby McFerrin

One-Hit Wonders Bobby McFerrin


Bobby McFerrin is an American singer known for his late 80s music era hit, the very catchy “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” which became a Grammy Award winner. Although more known as a one-hit wonder, McFerrin is one of the original and distinctive singers in his time, is adept at several different genres. More on Bobby McFerrin here in this article.

Early life and career

Ten-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist, songwriter and musician Bobby McFerrin is considered one of the unique singers, known for his quick octave shifting, rapidly switching between falsetto and deep bass which sounds like two people singing, and at the same time never sounding like anyone else. He is adept at singing several genres from jazz to a cappella to classical.

Bobby McFerrin was born Robert Keith McFerrin Jr. in Manhattan, New York on March 11, 1950. Music ran in the family, as both his parents had been classical music singers. His father, operatic baritone Robert McFerrin, became the first African-American to perform at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera.

The younger McFerrin studied piano during his college days in California. One of his earliest gigs was one of the touring members of the Ice Follies. After that he performed several cabaret acts, cover bands and cabaret acts before making his first vocal performance in 1977.

Following his move to San Francisco, he met the legendary funnyman Bill Cosby, who helped him get a gig at the Playboy Jazz Festival in 1980. Several years later, McFerrin would deliver his unique rendition of The Cosby Show’s theme song.

One of McFerrin’s earliest influences was Keith Jarrett, a jazz and classical musician who had attained fame for his improvisations. At the same time though, McFerrin had spent several years developing his own vocal style, trying not to sound like the other current singers during that time by not listening to them.

Recording career

In the early 1980s McFerrin signed with Elektra where he released his eponymous debut album in 1982.

Two years later, McFerrin released his second album The Voice, the first-ever major-label vocal jazz album without any overdubbing or accompaniment.

In 1985 he released another album Spontaneous Inventions, his debut for the renowned jazz record label Blue Note. The album featured artists such as jazz artist Herbie Hancock, the pop-cabaret group the Manhattan Transfer, and comedian Robin Williams. It reached #103 on the Billboard 200 album chart and #2 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart.

Fame with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

In 1988 McFerrin released his fifth album Simple Pleasures which contained the single “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The song was purely a cappella and McFerrin’s voice parts had been overdubbed.

It became the first a cappella song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (#7 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart and #2 on the UK singles chart) in 1988. The song won two Grammy Awards: one for Song of the Year and another for Record of the Year in 1989. It remains one of the oldies music favorites.

Later career

McFerrin continued his musical diversity. He released follow-ups such as the classical album Hush (1992) with acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the jazzy Play (1992) with Chick Corea, return to classical music with Paper Music (1995), and the vocal jazz of Bang! Zoom (1995) and Circlesongs (1997).

In 2002 McFerrin released another album Beyond Words, his first album on Blue Note for almost a decade. It featured several musicians such as Corea, Cyro Baptista, Richard Bona and Omar Hakim. He returned to classical again with a live album Konzert für Europa -The Schönbrunn Concert (2004). He released VOCAbuLarieS (2010) which featured a choir. His latest album Spirit you all (2013) was dedicated to his late father.

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