Sandwiched between the widely publicized Metropolitan Opera debuts of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price was the January 27, 1955 debut of Robert McFerrin. He became the first African-American opera singer to have a permanent position with the Metropolitan Opera Company. Although, Marian Anderson was the first to break the racial barrier, she sang only one opera with the famous troupe.
Mr. McFerrin is a native of Marianna, Arkansas. As one of eight children to a Baptist minister, his early years were spend in a strict religious environment
It wasn’t until high school that a teacher discovered his singing ability and encouraged him to consider serious vocal training Upon high school graduation, McFerrin furthered his musical training at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and later at the Chicago Musical College where he received his B.A. Music (1948). Although he began singing professionally in 1942, his career and education were interrupted for four years by World War II His military tenure in the Engineers and Special Services took him to England and Manila.
Upon his return to the States, he immediately resumed his singing career. he was heard by Boris Goldovsky, who offered him a scholarsh4 at Tanglewood, where he sang leading roles in Gluck?s Iphigenia and Verdi’s Rigoletto.
He was active with Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Company and sang the role of Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida (1949) and Valentine in Gounod’s Faust (1952). In 1949 he created the role of the voodoo priest in the New York City Opera Company’s production of William Grant Still?s Troubled Island On Broadway, he sang in Lost in the Stars (1949), Green Pastures (1951), and My Darlin’ Aida (1952). In 1959 he sang the title roles on the soundtrack for the film edition of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
McFerrin was unanimously voted winner of the 1953 Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air to become the first African-American singer to be given scholarship at the Kathryn Turney Long Opera Courses. These courses helped him prepare for his. Metropolitan Opera debut in the role of Amonarso in Verdi?s Aida.
Despite a rigorous performing schedule, Mr. McFerrin has given his time and energy to training future generations of opera singers. His teaching career included lecffireshzps or artist-in-residence appointments at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland; at Sacramento State College in Cal (fornia; the St Louis Institute of Music Conservatory in St Louis; and at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
Mr. McFerrin and his wife, Athena Bush McFerrin, reside in St Louis. Mr. McFerrin is the proud father of Grammy Award Winning pop artist Bobby McFerrin and daughter, Brenda. He has three grandchildren.