For decades, Bobby McFerrin has broken all the rules. The 10-time Grammy winner has blurred the distinction between pop music and fine art, goofing around barefoot in the world’s finest concert halls, exploring uncharted vocal territory, inspiring a whole new generation of a cappella singers and the beatbox movement. He singlehandedly redefined the role of the human voice with his experiments in multi-tracking, his collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea and the Vienna Philharmonic, his improvising choir Voicestra, and his legendary solo performances.
To some people, BOBBY McFERRIN will always be the guy who sang “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” But Bobby McFerrin was always an unlikely pop star. He created that lasting ear-worm of a #1 hit early in his career. Then he went back to pursuing his own iconoclastic musical journey, improvising on national television, singing melodies without words, spontaneously inventing parts for 60,000 choral singers in a stadium in Germany, ignoring boundaries of genre, defying all expectations.
“Music for me,” McFerrin says, “is like a spiritual journey down into the depths of my soul. And I like to think we’re all on a journey into our souls. What’s down there? That’s why I do what I do.”
Most people don’t know that Bobby came from a family of singers. He played the clarinet seriously as a child, and eventually began his musical career as a pianist, at the age of 14. He led his own jazz groups, studied composition, toured with the show band for the Ice Follies, played for dance classes. Then one day he was walking home and suddenly understood that he had been a singer all along. He was 27 years old.
Bobby’s background as an instrumentalist and bandleader is key to understanding his innovative approach to mapping harmony and rhythm (as well as melody) with his voice. “I can’t sing everything at once,” he says, “but I can hint at it so the audience hears even what I don’t sing.” All that pioneer spirit and virtuosity has opened up a great big sky full of new options for singers; so have Bobby’s experiments in multi-tracking his voice (Don’t Worry, Be Happy has seven separate, over-dubbed vocal tracks; Bobby’s through-composed choral album VOCAbuLarieS has thousands.) But virtuosity isn’t the point.
“I try not to ‘perform’ onstage,” says Bobby. “I try to sing the way I sing in my kitchen, because I just can’t help myself. I want audiences to leave the theatre and sing in their own kitchens the next morning. I want to bring audiences into the incredible feeling of joy and freedom I get when I sing. “
Bobby continues to explore the musical universe, known and unknown, as in albums, Spirityouall, embracing Americana and blues influences and tapping into deep reservoirs of faith and hope; or in Circlesongs, his improvised multi-part, multi-groove choruses of spontaneously composed vocal music which inspires singers around the world… And if you are in the Bay Area these days, you can find Bobby leading Circlesongs at Grace Cathedral or The Freight & Salvage to sing and join the fun.