trademark percussive technique that accompanieshis vocals. Warming up with the great gospel song“Every ime,” he interrupts himsel to emit a high-pitched bark at a little dog sitting in a visitor’s lap inthe ront row. He goes back to scatting, his ngersplying imaginary holes in the microphone.Backstage in his dressing room, eating a plateo strawberries and kiwi slices, he reected on hismusical journey, speaking in quiet, even tones so asnot to tax his voice beore the nearly two-hour con-cert he would deliver.
Spirius r vius vr ipr- pr f ur i usi ii.t u ur risip i s sgs, i bi.
My ather had a deeper rela-tionship with them. But I love these pieces, and Ilove what these songs say. Tey say it simply, beau-tiully. Sometimes it’s very dicult to sing thembecause a lot o them came rom slavery. But a songlike “Every ime I Feel Te Spirit” is a wonderulreminder or me to pray. Sometimes I use them asprayers. And when I sing them, I
them. I’mnot just being a singer singing a song, trying toentertain people. In act, the diculty or me is try-ing to get the ocus away rom me and onto the piec-es. Being a perormer on stage, everybody’s lookingat you and thinking about you as a perormer. A loto times, they don’t think about what you’re actual-ly singing about. So my diculty with these piecesin a concert setting is making sure that God gets theglory and I don’t.Tere’s always a special moment or me inevery perormance that’s unique and authen-tic. Te spirituals are authentic pieces o music. Ican remember when I was a kid, probably about8 years old, my ather was studying these spiritu-als with Hall Johnson, who did arrangements o some o them. His grandmother was a slave. So heheard them sung in the genuine renditions: how the phrasing went, the pronunciation o the words,stretching and singing over the bar lines. I can seeHall Johnson leaning over my ather at the pianoand teaching him how to sing these pieces. So my ather got the authentic sounds down into his voice,the authentic eeling. He sang them with deep, deepeeling. He meant every single word that he sang.He always ended his recitals with a set o spirituals.I went to many o them, and at some o them my mother was my dad’s accompanist.
I’s r fi rrigs f ur fr sig-ig spirius, u is sigig surk f
Porgy and be
Best baritone ever, as ar as I’m concerned. Richtone, very round. Whenever I work with choirs, Ialways go or his sound. I try to get them to singwith that rich, warm tone that my ather had.
as i, i u r u su?
No, I don’t think I ever tried to sound like my dad. In perormances I do sing in an operatic voicerom time to time, just as a orm o entertain-ment—sing the baritone, the soprano.
di u v fig r f prs’ ur r?
Oh, I knew it right o. Instinctively, I justthought, “Oh, this is lovely, it’s wonderul, my dad’sgreat at it, but it’s not or me.” I knew that in my teens. I started playing in bands when I was 14, andgot into jazz when I graduated rom high school.
w ki f sgs r u pig gs 14 18?
We’d do op 40 things at high school dances;anything that was on the radio. We played “96ears” [
imitates organ rif
] “Dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee.” We played “House O Te RisingSun” by Te Animals; we even did Bob Dylan’s“Like A Rolling Stone.” I was in three bands. I hadmy own jazz quintet, Te Bobby Mac Jazz Quintet.And two rock bands that played the op 40,
Fascinations. I’ve been a work-ing musician since I was 14 years old; we’re talkingalmost 50 years.
di ur prs v pii u u -ig usii?
Just be a good one.
yu i fr is u f spirius 20rs g.
Oh, at least 20 years ago. But at the time, Iwasn’t thinking about including the spirituals. Iwas thinking basically about doing original mate-rial o mine. I did dierent experiments, going intothe studio with various musicians to try things out.But it just never panned out.
It seemed like something was blocking it, orsome other gig opportunity would come up andmess with the timing. And also, I was just experi-menting—I think I wasn’t quite ocused enough tocomplete the idea o [what became]
w i u g i iu sgs,
is an album of spirituals old and new. Co-produced by thesinger’s manager/producer Linda Goldstein and arranger/keyboardist Gil Goldstein (no re-lation), the album contains inventive arrangements of historic Negro spirituals—such as“Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”—alongside McFerrin’s originalcompositions, like “Gracious” and “Jesus Makes It Good.” McFerrin, who sings much of the materialin his soulful baritone register, went into the studio with a brilliant, handpicked acoustic band thatcovers a wide variety of Americana styles, including blues, folk and Appalachian fiddle sounds.Gil Goldstein recalls that McFerrin had very specific ideas about what he didn’t want. “Wemet—Bobby, me and Linda—and did a quick session together about a year before we recorded. Ihad already done a couple of arrangements. I played one of them for Bobby, and he said, ‘Um … Idon’t think so. Too jazzy. This is not a jazz record.’ I said, ‘I just thought these would be nice changesfor you to solo on.’ And he says, ‘I don’t want any nice changes to solo on—that’s jazz. This has tocome more from the material.’ He also wanted everything to sound ‘made up.’ I had to arrangewith an open-ended spirit so that it could seem improvised.”A mainstay of the
band is multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, famous for hiswork with Bob Dylan, Levon Helm and many others. McFerrin remembers an experimental firstsession with the band. “There’s a solo piece I wrote called ‘25:15.’ It’s something I came up withwhen I was trying to memorize this Bible verse. Most times, when I’m trying to memorize anything,I’ll sing it. That’s how ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ came about: I saw this phrase while walking down thestreet one day in New York, and I just started singing it. Same thing. So I went into the studio andstarted singing [sings], ‘You know my eyes are ever on the Lord.’ Larry was there, and his ears areincredible—he just picked it up right away. For folk and blues, he’s
guy.”The Recording Academy, which has given McFerrin 10 Grammy awards, might have a difficulttime categorizing
. Linda Goldstein says, “With the previous album,
, the[Recording Academy] didn’t know where to put it. The New Age people wanted it, and the jazzpeople wanted it. Eventually they decided to put it in ‘Best Classical Crossover.’ This one could be[categorized as] Americana, it could be Folk. He is all music and every music. And he has extraordi-nary freedom. With a lot of jazz singers, you can sort of map their licks. With Bobby, you never knowwhere he’s going to go. He loves to play with expectation and surprise.”
Gil Goldstei (left) performig with MFerri o april 16