Bobby McFerrin with new album, Kennedy Center appearance

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Entertainment,Music,Robert Fulton

In conceiving his latest album, "Spirityouall," a combination of spirituals and a nod to Americana which comes out on Tuesday, vocalist and conductor Bobby McFerrin drew inspiration from his father.

"My father had the most beautiful baritone voice I've ever heard," said McFerrin in an email interview. "He was incredibly disciplined, he held himself to the highest standards. He and my mother were both singers and they both loved music, so my childhood home was filled with all kinds of music, symphonies and operas and jazz and folk and blues."

McFerrin performs Monday at the Kennedy Center.

In 1957, Bobby McFerrin's father, Robert, recorded an album of spirituals titled "Deep River," working with musician and composer Hall Johnson. The junior McFerrin recorded three songs that appeared on "Deep River" for "Spirityouall": "Everytime," "Fix Me Jesus" and "Swing Low."

Onstage
Bobby McFerrin
» Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 7 p.m. Monday
» Info: $20 to $65; 800-444-1324, 202-467-4600; kennedy-center.org

"I was just a kid, listening to them work, but I'm sure it's influenced me," said McFerrin, 63. "I can't sing these songs like my father sang them, but it's a lasting imprint."

In addition to his father, McFerrin drew from more contemporary artists such as Eric Clapton, James Taylor and Sly Stone. Jazz singer Esperanza Spalding appears on three of the tracks.

"People are more aware of my jazz and classical and world music roots, but the rock and blues and soul influences have always been there, too," said McFerrin.

On "Spirityouall," McFerrin draws from the rock world with a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." The song fits right in with others such as "Whole World."

"We wanted to include something that wasn't mine and wasn't from the tradition but helped us make our point about how much music comes out of the universal feeling of the spirit yearning for freedom and deliverance," said McFerrin. "Who doesn't want to be released? I had loved the song years ago, but I confess I didn't even go back to listen to it, I was too afraid of being influenced by Dylan's phrasing and delivery. So I'm not even sure I sang the melody right. I just sang it the way I felt it."

In addition to the seven standards and one cover, McFerrin included five originals.

Born in Manhattan, McFerrin has had a long and rich career as a composer and vocalist. He may be best known to most as the man behind the 1988 hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy." He's won 10 Grammy Awards.

The title "Spirityouall" is a clever play on words revealed when said aloud.

"Funny how you can just be playing around and getting at deeper meanings all at the same time," said McFerrin. "You all, us all. We all need to get in touch with the spirit. Everybody has faith in something. Everybody has pain, everybody wants to get to a better place. We all have an incredible capacity for joy and a yearning for peace."

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Robert Fulton

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner