Robert "Bobby" McFerrin Jr. (born in Manhattan, New York, on March 11, 1950) is a jazz-influenced a cappella vocal performer and conductor. He is best known for his 1988 hit song "Don't Worry, Be Happy".
McFerrin is the son of the late operatic baritone Robert McFerrin, who was the first African American to be a regular with New York's Metropolitan Opera. The elder McFerrin also provided the vocals for Sidney Poitier in the motion picture version of Porgy and Bess.
McFerrin is known for his unorthodox singing techniques. Using his unusually large vocal range of four octaves, in many performances he switches rapidly fluidly between normal and falsetto registers to create polyphonic effects, effectively performing both the main melody and the accompanying parts of songs. He makes use of vocal percussion created both with his mouth and by tapping on his chest. McFerrin is also capable of throat singing — a practice common in central Asian countries such as Tuva and Tibet — in which the singer excites the natural overtones from the fundamental vocal pitch, producing a two-or three-part chord of notes from one voice.
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.
McFerrin's song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was a #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.
In 1987, he sang the theme tune to The Cosby Show and soon after also provided the music for a Cadburys chocolate commercial.
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 for AIDS.
In 1993, he also sang Henry Mancini's Pink Panther theme tune for the movie Son of the Pink Panther.
In addition to his vocal performing career, Mr. McFerrin was appointed in 1994 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 fortieth birthday), the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic and many others. In his 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, his concerts often end with McFerrin conducting the orchestra in an a capella 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.
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 a son, Taylor, and father and son have collaborated 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-etc. group Yohimbe Brothers.