Musician Bobby McFerrin turns 70

a blackbird, a Martian, an operatic soprano, a small child, and a bebop trumpet


“There is something almost superhuman about the range and technique of Bobby McFerrin,” Newsweek noted. “He sounds, by turns, like a blackbird, a Martian, an operatic soprano, a small child, and a bebop trumpet.”

Back in the early 1980s, I had heard of this a capella singer who performed in the jazz mode, making near orchestral sounds with his voice and body, named Bobby McFerrin. I was familiar with him mostly because every album had a some pop music covers. [Here is a live cover version of the Beatles’ Blackbird.]

In the summer of 1988, I was in San Diego, riding in the car of my sister’s friend Donald, when I heard a song called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” for the first time. I thought, “That could be a big hit in southern California, but I don’t know if anyone else will buy it.” Of course, it hit the national charts on July 30, and went to #1 for two weeks, starting on September 30. (Here’s one video, and this the video featuring McFerrin and Robin Williams.

Medicine Man

Skip to in 1989, when he formed a ten-person ‘Voicestra’ which he featured on his 1990 album Medicine Music. I happened to catch McFerrin and Voicestra one morning on NBC-TV’s Today show. After a couple songs, I recall that Bryant Gumbel, then the co-host of the show, made an observation. McFerrin had said in a previous interview that he would no longer perform “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, his only #1 hit. Now Gumbel understood why.
Sweet in the Morning from Medicine Music, featuring Voicestra.
Discipline, Featuring Robert McFerrin & Voicestra

I bought about a half dozen copies of that album to give as Christmas presents in 1990.

I was watching that episode with our brand-new new church choir director, Eric. He was crashing at our apartment until he found a place of his own. A couple years later, he arranged the McFerrin version of the 23rd Psalm for three guys in the choir to sing. Bob, Tim, and with me performed it , with me singing the highest part, all falsetto. On the recording, McFerrin sings all three vocal tracks, overdubbed, himself, which you can hear HERE.

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. This is Ma and McFerrin’s version of Ave Maria.

SPAC

My wife and I had the great good fortune to see Bobby McFerrin live at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on August 6, 1999. From the review, now apparently offline:

Whether conducting the classics, improvising on an original tune plucked from thin air or cavorting within the ranks of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the affable McFerrin charms all in his wake.

Finding descriptive labels for the multitalented McFerrin seems futile. His talent is so broad and diverse that there seems to be nothing he can’t do well, including stand-up comedy. There’s a serious side, too, as the wunderkind leads the likes of the Philly through compositions by major composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Felix Mendelssohn.

McFerrin’s uncanny ability to do “voices” put the audience on the floor with
all the characters from “Oz,” the most memorable of which was Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch line — “Come here, my little pretty!”

[This was HYSTERICAL.]

McFerrin invited singers in the audience who knew the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” to sing along. McFerrin sang every note of Bach’s rippling arpeggios for accompaniment, while several audience soloists sang Gounod’s wonderful melody over the top.
[This was absolutely extraordinary. One of the soloists was only a few rows in front of us.]

The Philly sang (yes, sang) the “William Tell Overture,” for encore.
[A hoot.]

Listen to CircleSong Six from the CircleSong album.

Eclectic

As an Amazon review says:
“Despite the undeniable uniqueness of his gift, Bobby’s music is always accessible and inviting. When he invites his fans to sing along, as he almost always does, few can resist. Inclusiveness, play, and the universality of voices raised together in song are at the heart of Bobby’s art.

“Bobby McFerrin was exposed to a multitude of musical genres during his youth–classical, R&B, jazz, pop and world musics. ‘When you grow up with that hodgepodge of music, it just comes out. It was like growing up in a multilingual house,’ he says.

“Bobby McFerrin continues to explore the musical universe, known and unknown.”

A Bobby McFerrin discography.

Bobby McFerrin turns 70 today.

Edited from a 2010 post.

September Rambling: overcoming adversity

One of my oldest friends is going to be working with Paul McCartney!

Why is September a slow writing month? Haven’t even gotten to look at many interesting links I have set aside to peruse later, then “later” never comes. Jaquandor’s having writing problems too, but it appears to have been rectified, according to his Facebook posts.

Arthur has had a woeful time on HIS blog, but maybe it’s the way it is after seven years of blogging. Or maybe he’s just excited about the fact that on Friday, November 1, he and Nigel are going to the registry office in Auckland, New Zealand to change their civil union to marriage. Mazel tov!

My friend Claire’s annual blog post.

SamuraiFro​g was in a wedding. He was extremely anxious about it, but he did very well! Still, he’s still dealing with some stuff; good luck, guy.

My ABC Wednesday buddy Leslie on her beau’s improving health, but also her own self-described klutziness.

Phil Hansen: The art of the imperfect.

The oddest Facebook conversation I had about the owner of Barilla pasta and his anti-gay comments, which has spurred calls for a boycott, forced me to write: “It is necessarily true that one does not know the bigotry of every CEO. I don’t know how that translates to ‘since I don’t know what they all think, I’ll ignore this one’s bigotry.'”

An interview with Mark Evanier. Stories of his father featuring Harry the Gonif and ambulances. Plus a story about David Frost NOT about Richard Nixon.

I’ve been napping all wrong…

A suspected surrogacy scam revealed something remarkable. Plus, an arm and a fin.

Arthur shares his Labor Day message and an ad I like.

Dustbury manages to write about Microsoft Windows and the 1908 Chicago Cubs in the same post.

The Evolution of Alex Trebek’s Mustache.

COMIC BOOKS:
Back in the early 1950s, comic books were the Grand Theft Auto of the day, a “fall guy” along with rock ‘n’ roll for a nation looking for simplistic explanations for complex societal problems.

Evanier on coverless comics and the early days of Marvel Comics. BTW, Mr. Frog is still writing about those old Marvels.

Polite Scott is back with his medical reviews of current comic books. And you don’t even have to have read the comics to appreciate the analyses.

I imagine we’ve all felt a bit like Dougie McCoy.

MUSIC (mostly):
One of my oldest friends is going to be working with Paul McCartney! Here’s his NEW song.

Bobby McFerrin’s science lesson.

Comedian Gary Owen on “Black Churches”; and Lyle Lovett: Church.

Noshville Kotz, with apologies to John Sebastian.

The Fox by Ylvis. And I STILL don’t know what to make of this video. Maybe seeing the parodies of it, compiled by Chuck Miller, will help.

Chuck has also unearthed The Ballad of Albany and found a composer of the song. http://www.nippertown.com/2013/09/27/other-voices-other-rooms-119/#sthash.1wlWkrbF.dpuf

Before he was famous, Jimmy Buffett was in this faux band called the Now Generation. Here are amazingly “inspiring” versions of These Boots Are Made for Walking and Come Together.

GOOGLE ALERT (me)

Arthur and Jason spent episode 91 of the 2political podcast responding to comments I left on their previous episode. “Jason also talks about his experience after being attacked and robbed, including dealing with the criminal justice system.”

GOOGLE ALERTS (not me)

Ex-reporter lifts lid on his wrestling career. Roger Green’s book, titled Memoirs of a TV Wrestler, is available to download. “It is a no-holds-barred semi-autobiography, which lifts the lid on the wrestling business during the 60s and 70s.”

So to the age-old trick of putting an attractive lady beside a ‘hand’ (hello Roger Green, ex of Evo and now Radical marketing man) in a fast car and making both her and the tyres squeal.