Thinkin’ About Your Body
Music video by Bobby McFerrin performing “Thinkin’ About Your Body.
Robert “Bobby” McFerrin, Jr. (born March 11, 1950) is an American 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. He is well known for his unique vocal techniques and singing styles.
Bobby McFerrin was born in Manhattan, New York City, the son of operatic baritone Robert McFerrin and singer Sara Copper. He attended the California State University, Sacramento.
McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was a No. 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.
As a vocalist, McFerrin often switches rapidly between modal and falsetto registers to create polyphonic effects, performing both the main melody and the accompanying parts of songs. He makes use of percussive effects created both with his mouth and by tapping on his chest. McFerrin is also capable of multiphonic singing, as observed in his song “Drive” from the 2005 DVD Live in Montreal.
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.
In 1986, McFerrin 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. That same year, he performed the theme song for the opening credits of Season 4 of The Cosby Show, as well as the music for a Cadbury chocolate commercial.
In 1988, McFerrin recorded the hit song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, which brought him widespread recognition across the world. However, the song’s success “ended McFerrin’s musical life as he had known it,” and he began to pursue other musical possibilities – on stage and in recording studios. The song was used in George H. W. Bush’s 1988 U.S. presidential election as Bush’s 1988 official presidential campaign song, without Bobby McFerrin’s permission or endorsement. In reaction, Bobby McFerrin publicly protested that particular use of his song, including stating that he was going to vote against Bush, and completely dropped the song from his own performance repertoire, to make the point even clearer.
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 about AIDS. McFerrin also performed with the Vocal Summit.
As early as 1992, widespread rumors circulated that falsely claimed McFerrin committed suicide. The rumors intentionally made fun of the distinctly positive nature of his popular song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by claiming McFerrin ironically took his own life.
In addition to his vocal performing career, in 1994, Mr. McFerrin was appointed 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 Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and many others. In McFerrin’s 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, the 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.
For a few years in the late 1990s, he toured a concert version of Porgy and Bess, partly in honor of his father, who sang the role for Sidney Poitier in the 1959 film version, and partly “to preserve the score’s jazziness” in the face of “largely white orchestras” who tend not “to play around the bar lines, to stretch and bend”. McFerrin says that because of his father’s work in the movie, “This music has been in my body for 40 years, probably longer than any other music.”
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 collaborated with his son, Taylor, 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 group Yohimbe Brothers.