Bobby McFerrin was born in Manhattan, New York City, the son of operatic baritone Robert McFerrin and singer Sara Copper. He attended Cathedral High School (Los Angeles) and the California State University, Sacramento.
McFerrin married Debbie Green in 1975. They have three children, Taylor, Jevon, and Madison. Madison sings in the band Cosmodrome, and joined Bobby McFerrin as a vocalist on his 2013 spirityouall tour.
McFerrin's song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was a No. 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.
'Unconventional' is a good way to describe the career of Bobby McFerrin. Those familiar with McFerrin's shows, whether as a conductor or a vocalist, know that each one is a unique event that resonates with the unexpected. He is that rare artist who has the ability to reach beyond musical genres and stereotypes for a sound that is entirely his own. As one of the foremost guardians of music's rich heritage, he remains at the vanguard with his natural, beautiful and timeless music that transcends all borders and embraces all cultures.
As early as 1992, widespread rumors circulated that falsely claimed McFerrin committed suicide. The rumors intentionally made fun of the distinctly positive nature of his popular song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by claiming McFerrin ironically took his own life.
In 1993, McFerrin sang Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme for the movie Son of the Pink Panther.
In addition to his vocal performing career, in 1994, Mr. McFerrin was appointed 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 40th birthday), the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and many others. In McFerrin's 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, the concerts often end with McFerrin conducting the orchestra in an a cappella 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.
For a few years in the late 1990s, he toured a concert version of Porgy and Bess, partly in honor of his father, who sang the role for Sidney Poitier in the 1959 film version, and partly "to preserve the score's jazziness" in the face of "largely white orchestras" who tend not "to play around the bar lines, to stretch and bend". McFerrin says that because of his father's work in the movie, "This music has been in my body for 40 years, probably longer than any other music."
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 collaborated with his son, Taylor, 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 group Yohimbe Brothers.
Bobby McFerrin performing live with a crowd in Kaunas Hall. Song "I Can See Clearly Now".