Category Archives: Bobby McFerrin

M is for McFerrin

“There is something almost superhuman about the range and technique of Bobby McFerrin,” says Newsweek. “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.]

Almost every season of the popular sitcom called Cosby Show had a different version of the theme to open the show. For Season 4 (1987-1988), the opening was performed by McFerrin.

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.

Skip to in 1989, when he 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, noted that McFerrin had said in an interview that he would no longer perform “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, his only #1 hit, and that now he (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, who 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 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.

My wife and I had the great good fortune to see bobby McFerrin live at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on August 6, 1999. Here’s the review, from which I want to highlight the following:

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

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.

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 turned 60 on March 11, 2010.


ABC Wednesday

G is for Gardens

Some weeks ago, one of my sisters sent me a bunch of beautiful pictures such as this one:

I wanted to use them for this blog post, so I wrote to the person who had forwarded the pictures to her, a friend of my sister, who I had met at my niece’s wedding in March 2005. Well, HE didn’t take them either.

The posting was listed as Montreal Gardens. But they did not look like they were from the Montreal Botanical Gardens, which has items that look more like this:

As it turned out, others had the very same question:
Recently saw a short video (via email) of a fabulous topiary garden in Montreal with all kinds of animal/bird topiaries. It just says “Montreal gardens” but no location or any other information. I have searched Montreal attractions but no clue. Even the Botanical Garden page doesn’t mention it. – thought it might be there. Anyone know where in Montreal area it is? Thank you.

Someone answered: that it was from Mosaicultures Internationales de Montreal ( It’s in the Vieux-Port, not the BG.
Unfortunately, it’s only a temporary exhibition, not presented every year. I don’t know when the next one is expected.

You can find a slideshow of a couple dozen International Mosaiculture of Montreal pictures here.
Meanwhile, the concept of the garden also reminded me of a couple other things. One was Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden.

Albrecht Dürer. The Fall of Man (Adam and Eve). Engraving, 1504

A comparison between Rembrandt’s etched Adam and Eve and Dürer’s engraved version of the same subject can be seen here.

In that vein, there is a great song, The Garden. It was written and performed by Bobby McFerrin on the 1990 Medicine Music album, and can be heard here. Interestingly, after I watched him perform a couple cuts from the album on NBC-TV’s Today show, McFerrin declared to host Bryant Gumbel that he would never again perform his biggest hit from a couple years before, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Here’s a cover version of The Garden by Vocal Line.

Finally, lyrics to the song Woodstock by Joni Mitchell:
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Joni’s version; ironically, she never performed at Woodstock 40 years ago; she was booked to appear on late-night, ABC-TV program The Dick Cavett Show, and her manager feared that she won’t make it back from Bethel, NY (where the concert was held) to New York City (where Cavett’s show originated) in time; a legitimate concern, as it turned out.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s cover of Woodstock from the 1970 Album Deja Vu. They DID perform at Woodstock, BTW.

The Theological Implications of Doris Day QUESTION

My racquetball buddies and I were in the locker room, and someone said, innocently, “Que sera, sera.” Somehow, this led to some great theological/philosophical debate. One person suggested that the line of “whatever will be, will be” was a position of those Christians who believe that “everything is fixed, and you can’t change it”, while another opined that it was antithetical to the Christian tradition, because God is an active God. The fatalism of Nietzsche was invoked in the conversation, as were the impersonal gods of the ancient Greeks.

So, a simple question, and a more complex one. Please respond to either, or both:

1. What other purely popular songs suggest theological or philosophical meanings to you, and in what way?
Example: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin may evoke the “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin” of Matthew 6:28.
Example: “The Word” by the Beatles. John 1:1, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Lennon/McCartney, “Now I’ve got it, the word is good.” The song also notes “That the word is just the way”; John 14:6, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Note also, John 1:1 and the first verse in the song start, “in the beginning.”

2. To what theology/philosophy do you think Que Sera, Sera belong? Does it belong to yours?
Anyone else, when they hear his name, sing “Dave Petraeus, Dave Petraus” to the tune of “Doctor Zaius” from the Simpsons? I thought not.
“The general came to shed some light
On why we needed to keep the fight.”
Of course, you can color the couplet to your personal political preferences.