Bobby McFerrin: The Spirit of Music


Bobby McFerrin
Steve Jurvetson, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you like to sing? Ryan Geertsma and Robin Basselin look at the amazing singing of musician Bobby McFerrin.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2 

And I’m Robin Basselin. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Here is a question for you to answer. How many people do you hear singing in this song? Listen closely.

Five? Six? It sounds like many people are singing, but it is only one man. His name is Bobby McFerrin.

Voice 2

Bobby McFerrin is a famous musician. Many people know McFerrin because of the unusual way he uses his voice. But this is only a small part of McFerrin’s music. For over 30 years, Bobby McFerrin has explored many different kinds of music. And he believes that all music is powerful and spiritual. Today’s Spotlight is on Bobby McFerrin.

Voice 1 

Bobby McFerrin was born in 1950, in New York City. His parents were both expert singers. As a child, McFerrin was surrounded by music. Often, his father would sing old, Christian spiritual songs. This music deeply affected McFerrin’s faith. For many years, McFerrin even wanted to become a Christian monk. He wanted to devote his life to prayer, worship and service to God.

Voice 2 

McFerrrin’s mother also deeply influenced him. Her music often brought him peace. McFerrin told Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,

Voice 3 

“My mother knew that music was healing. Whenever I was sick, she would give me two things. She gave me medicine for my physical pains. And she would give me music for my spirit.”

Voice 1 

Early in his life, McFerrin began playing instruments. At first, he played the clarinet and then the piano. But he did not think he was a singer. That changed in 1977. He was 27 years old. McFerrin told Down Beat magazine,

Voice 3 

“I was in a quiet minute when a simple thought just came into my head: ‘Why don’t you sing?’ It was as simple as that. But it must have had some force behind it, because I acted on it immediately.”

Voice 2 

Right away, McFerrin found he had a very good singing voice. He began traveling around the United States and performing with other singers and musical groups. But in 1983 something changed McFerrin’s singing forever. He heard an improvisational show, by piano player Keith Jarret. Improvisation is when a musician changes the music as he plays. He may start with written music. But he reacts to the other musicians and to the people listening.

Voice 1 

Bobby McFerrin knew that he wanted to be an improvisational singer. He told Metro Active Magazine:

Voice 3 

“I came up with this strange idea. I would walk out in front of the people listening, with no other musicians. I would just start singing whatever came to my mind. I fought against the idea for a while because it seemed to be the opposite of what other people were doing. But it became clear that it was what I was supposed to be doing.”

Voice 2 

Soon, McFerrin became famous for his improvisational singing. But he still continued exploring his voice. He studied the range of the human voice. He explored how he could use very high and very low sounds together. McFerrin also became an expert at throat singing. Using this method, he can make several sounds with his voice at the same time. He can also keep a beat by hitting his chest. He can sound like a bird, or a car, or a machine. He will shout, clap his hands together, and move his feet. He will use whatever he can to make the sounds he wants. This is what makes Bobby McFerrin a different kind of singer.

Voice 1 

Bobby McFerrin became very popular. Radio and television shows invited him to perform. But the high point of his popularity was in 1988. That year, he released the song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy...

Voice 2 

There are no instruments in this song. All the different sounds you hear are McFerrin singing. He would sing one part and then record another part on top of it. He did this many times until the song was complete.

Voice 1 

After McFerrin became popular, he still continued exploring music. He has performed many different kinds of music - popular American music, jazz music, classical music and music from around the world. And McFerrin has played with some of the world’s best musicians - like jazz musician Herbie Hancock, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and guitar player Ferenc Snétberger.

Voice 2

McFerrin has also conducted classical music. The conductor is the leader of the orchestra. As a conductor, McFerrin is responsible for giving each piece of music a new feeling. And he does just that. Often, McFerrin uses his voice to play the part of one of the instruments in the orchestra. He is both the conductor and a singer at the same time. Listen to this:

Voice 1 

Bobby McFerrin loves music.  And he wants other people to love music too.  When he performs, he encourages the people listening to sing and perform with him. He told the Boston Globe newspaper,

Voice 3 

“I like to get people singing. I think music is such a powerful tool for communication. It brings people together. Even people who do not know each other can create a heavenly sound together. I love the sound of many voices coming back at me.”

Voice 2 

Most recently, McFerrin recorded a music album called “spirit you all.” Like always, this group of songs is very different than the music he has made in the past. These songs are influenced by the old, Christian spirituals McFerrin’s father used to sing. They are also influenced by his belief that music can affect all people’s spirits. Many of the songs on “spirit you all” come from a part of the Christian Bible called The Psalms. The Psalms are like faith poems or prayers. McFerrin told the Boston Globe,

Voice 3

“Singing these songs is very personal to me. They are a prayer - a prayer for myself and for the people listening to me. I want the people listening to hear the message in the songs. We need to have respect for life. Just existing is a holy experience. I hope the listeners hear that message. Every creative minute offers a way to give thanks. I am thankful for every day God gives me to open my eyes, look at the sun, and make music.”

Voice 1 

The writers of this program were Adam Navis and Robin Basselin. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States. The music was performed by Bobby McFerrin. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again and read it on the Internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called “Bobby McFerrin: The Spirit of Music.”

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!

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Question:

Do you like to sing? What was the last song you sang?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
vivianhuang
said on August 06, 2013

Bobby McFerrin is a gift as a musician.I love the song “Don’t worry,Be happy” too.It makes me feel relax and good.Enjoy it a lot.
By the way,music is really a powerful tool for communication.It brings strange people together.

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MoniqueGomes
said on September 15, 2014

I loved this podcast! I did not yet Know this singer, but now I gonna listen his music!

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Camillo Marques
said on June 14, 2015

I am not a good singer, but I like music so much. And Bobby Mcferrin is awesome, Freedrom is a voice, is a poetic song. I have listened to Bobby McFerrin, for many years, and it was a surprise to listen to this podcast about him and his music. Thanks for posting it
Camillo, from Brasil

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kenhieuloilam
said on July 14, 2015

Seasons come and then go. The sun rises and then sets. Flowers bloom and then wilt. There are joys. There are sadnesses. We see beautiful good things and changes. We see ups and downs. We see happiness and difficulties. Our heart aims at beautiful good things. We live our lives among ups and downs in the life. We experience difficulties. We build for beautiful good things. We build for true values. We wish true happiness.