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November 29, 2006

Bobby's famous dad passes

Baritone Robert McFerrin Sr., the first black man to sing under contract at the Metropolitan Opera and the father of Grammy-winning vocalist Bobby McFerrin, has died at the age of 85, the Associated Press has reported. McFerrin died of a heart attack at a hospital in St. Louis, the Washington Post has reported. He is survived by his second wife, Athena whom he married in 1994 as well as his two children, three grandchildren and a sister.

McFerrin won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1953, and made his Metropolitan Opera debut two years later as Amonasro in Aida, a role he would perform seven times with the company over three seasons; McFerrin also sang a single Faust Valentin and two Rigolettos while on the company's roster. The baritone's Met debut on January 27, 1955 came almost three weeks after contralto Marian Anderson sang Ulrica in Il Trovatore in her historic company debut on January 7, 1955. The quick succession of both debuts signaled a notable detente in the opportunities provided to singers of color under the tenure of then-new general manager Rudolph Bing over that of his predecessor, Edward Johnson.

McFerrin also notably sang the vocals for Sidney Poitier's title character-portrayal in Otto Preminger's 1959 movie adaptation of Porgy and Bess.

Bobby McFerrin Jr., singer of the buoyant 1980's hit, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," performed in concert with his father in 1993, when McFerrin Sr. appeared as a soloist with the St. Louis Symphony with his son as guest conductor.

"His work influenced everything I do musically," Bobby McFerrin is quoted as telling the Associated Press in 2003. "When I direct a choir, I go for his sound. His musical influence was absolutely profound. I cannot do anything without me hearing his voice."

Born in Marianna, Arkansas, Robert McFerrin was one eight children in the home of a Baptist minister who reportedly forbade his children to sing anything other than gospel music. In 1936 he moved to St. Louis to undertake classical vocal training. Throughout the next two decades, McFerrin would go on to make his debuts on Broadway in the ensemble of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars as well as with the National Negro Opera Company. In March of 1949 McFerrin made his New York City Opera debut in the role of Popaloi in the world premiere of Harlem-Renaissance composer William Grant Still's Troubled Island.

In 1973 McFerrin returned to St. Louis. He suffered at stroke in 1989, but, while his speaking voice was impaired, his singing voice remained largely unaffected; he continued performing for years afterwards. He was honored with a lifetime achievement award by Opera America in June 2003.

Posted by acapnews at November 29, 2006 12:20 AM