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Issue Date: January 2007 Issue

Bobby's Back

Don’t worry, he’s happy.

Fresh from a yearlong respite, Bobby McFerrin — 10-time Grammy-winner and creator of the catchy, ’80s tune “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” — returns to the stage for a Cleveland Institute of Music benefit Jan. 20.
“This is the first real sabbatical I’ve had in 25 years,” McFerrin says. “I’ve been sitting on my porch swing, walking my dog, reading … regular, normal, everyday routine things.”

Not that McFerrin will be out of his element conducting the CIM Orchestra at Severance Hall. His guest-conductor gigs have included the London Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic and The Cleveland Orchestra. 
“I try to have fun with it, be relaxed, get the musicians to be relaxed. I want to bring a sense of spontaneity,” McFerrin says.

Expect the same when McFerrin goes solo for the second half of his performance.

“I try to be as simple and quiet and unassuming as the same self that sings when I’m walking from the front door to the kitchen, holding a bag of groceries,” McFerrin says. “My goal is to get to the point where I’m listening, and my audience is listening with me, and nothing is forced.”

McFerrin’s solo work includes influences from all disciplines of music, and much of each performance is improvised, incorporating his voice as the sounds of instruments or anything that strikes his fancy.

“We’ve grown up in age where we’re entertaining ourselves to death,” says McFerrin, who also founded Voicestra, an innovative a cappella choral group. “We would rather be entertained than enlightened. Music is enlightened. Music is about feeding the soul, not just getting on the dance floor and shaking the booty.

“Music is joy, it’s uplifting. It’s not junk food for the mind.”

McFerrin, who has sold more than 20 million records and collaborated with Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and Yo-Yo Ma, especially relishes his interaction with students. “Students give me energy and observations I might not be aware of,” McFerrin says. “The way young minds explore and the way they think is, to me, just fascinating.”

— Tori Woods

An Evening with Bobby McFerrin and the CIM Orchestra; Jan. 20, 8:30 p.m., Severance Hall. For more information, visit

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