In this Musical Moment, VocalEssence artistic director and founder Philip Brunelle shares insider information and beautiful music by the composer Bobby McFerrin.
American composer and vocalist Bobby McFerrin is perhaps best-known for his piece, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Born in Manhattan, Bobby came from a family of singers: Bobby’s father, the Metropolitan Opera baritone Robert McFerrin, Sr., provided the singing voice for Sydney Poitier for the film version of Porgy & Bess, and his mother Sara was a fine soprano soloist and voice teacher. He remembers conducting Beethoven on the stereo at three, hiding under the piano while his father and mother coached young singers, dancing around the house to Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Etta Jones and Fred Astaire. He played the clarinet seriously as a child but 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, and played for dance classes. Bobby’s history 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 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.” 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.
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