Bobby McFerrin Biography

11 March 1950, New York City, New York, USA. To call Bobby McFerrin a jazz vocalist is hardly to do him justice, for when McFerrin performs - he usually appears solo in lengthy concerts - he uses his entire body as a sound-box, beating noises out of his slender frame while emitting a constant accompaniment of guttural noises, clicks and popping sounds. To all this he adds a vocal technique that owes a slight debt to the bop vocalist Betty Carter and her daring swoops and scat vocals.

McFerrin was brought up in a musical family - both his parents are opera singers, his father performing on the film soundtrack of Porgy And Bess in 1959 - but his main jazz influence came from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. Training as a pianist at the Juilliard School of Music and later at Sacramento State College, he worked first as an accompanist, then as a pianist and singer during the 70s. He came to public notice in 1979, when he performed in New York with the singer Jon Hendricks, but it was his unaccompanied appearance at the 1981 Kool Jazz Festival that brought him widespread acclaim. By 1983, he had perfected his solo style of wordless, vocal improvisations. His debut album contained a dramatic reworking of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’, while The Voice mixed his fondness for pop classics - this time, the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ - with more adventurous pieces, notably the self-descriptive ‘I’m My Own Walkman’.

The 1988 album Simple Pleasures shows off his wide range with its mixture of pop classics and self-composed material. The highlight of the album was his idiosyncratic version of Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, complete with a vocal electric guitar. That recording also spawned a huge hit single, ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’, which was featured in the popular movie Cocktail. It reached number 1 in the USA and number 2 in the UK. Further success came when Cadbury’s chocolate used ‘Thinkin’ About Your Body’ in a major advertising campaign (substituting the word ‘chocolate’ for ‘body’). This moved him away from a jazz audience although Paper Music was an impressive venture, with McFerrin attempting the music of Bach, Mozart and Mendelssohn. He moved back to his jazz roots when he joined forces with Yellowjackets on Bang!Zoom. McFerrin is a true original, blessed with a remarkable vocal ability that goes beyond the usual limitations of the human voice.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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