Bobby McFerrin Performs Concert with Students February 24

By 
Margot Edwards
February 3, 2011
Bobby McFerrin
Photo by Stewart Cohen

Berklee's Africana Studies Concert Series presents Sing Song with Bobby McFerrin on Thursday, February 24, at the Berklee Performance Center. For this concert, McFerrin performs an improvisational program with Berklee student vocalists in the 24-member Singing Tribe Ensemble, conducted by associate voice professor Joey Blake. The ensemble was chosen through auditions, callbacks, and essay submissions detailing what the students hoped to gain from the experience. The concert is the culmination of McFerrin's weeklong residency, his second visit as Africana Studies visiting professor. The program for the evening will be determined through McFerrin's workshops with the students the week of the concert.

Sing Song with Bobby McFerrin is $10, all ages, and begins at 8:15 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, MA. Tickets are available at the performance center box office, or through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 617 747-2261 or visit berkleebpc.com. The venue is wheelchair-accessible.

Blake, who has toured with McFerrin for 23 years as a founding member of Voicestra, has been preparing the students for McFerrin's visit. "Most of what the kids are going to do in the concert will be improvised, they'll workshop while he's here and put together what they're going to do," says Blake. "I'm teaching them how to become an ensemble, and getting them in the headspace based on improvised performance. I know how he works, what they'll need to know, and what they can expect."

Auditions were held college-wide last fall to choose the ensemble—composed of 19 primary vocalists and five alternates. While many Berklee student concerts include auditions, the process for this ensemble was particularly exhaustive. Close to 300 students auditioned, and the finalists went through two callbacks. In addition, students submitted essays about what they hope to gain and why they felt it would be a good experience. Says Blake, "We wanted people who are open to exploration and have a strong sense of world community and building bridges between cultures, to create an ensemble of musical family and make sure the students were really interested in growing as people and as artists."

Showcasing the diverse landscape of Berklee students, the ensemble members hail from countries all over the world, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Ecuador, Finland, Greece, Holland, Italy, South Korea, Russia, and the U.S. Once the members were chosen, McFerrin met with them when he visited Berklee in November.

Bobby McFerrin, a 10-time Grammy Award winner with a four-octave range, is one of the world's best-known vocal innovators and improvisers, a renowned classical conductor, the creator of immensely popular song "Don't Worry Be Happy," and a passionate spokesman for music education. His recordings have sold over 20 million copies, and his collaborations, including with Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea, the Vienna Philharmonic, and Herbie Hancock have established him as an ambassador of classical and jazz. McFerrin is a vocal explorer who combines jazz, folk, and world music influences with his own ingredients for a sound that is entirely his own. As a conductor, McFerrin conveys his innate musicality in an entirely different context. He has worked with such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Sing Song with Bobby McFerrin, cosponsored by the Faculty Development Office, is part of Berklee's annual Africana Studies Concert Series, produced by Bill Banfield, director of Africana Studies, and students and faculty. The series includes performances and lectures by Richard Smallwood, John Blake, Ernie Isley, Honeyboy Edwards, Patrice Rushen, and Nnenna Freelon, among others. Africana Studies is an initiative of Berklee's Liberal Arts program.