Tag Archives: Alfred Hay Malotte

Episode 260. Robert McFerrin Revisited

In the very first season of Countermelody I presented an episode which featured both Lawrence Winters and Robert McFerrin, two of the most significant baritones of the twentieth century, and both trail-blazing African American singers. Last week I revisited the life, career, and recordings of Lawrence Winters, and this week, as a companion to that episode, I present today his contemporary Robert McFerrin (19 March 1921 – 24 November 2006), the first African American male to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. He made his first appearance with the company as Amonasro in Aida on Thursday January 27, 1955, twenty days after Marian Anderson’s legendary debut there. McFerrin sang only ten performances of three roles under the banner of the Met, eight of them in the house, and two on tour. His final performance there, also as Amonasro, took place almost exactly two years after his debut there. Five months later in June 1957, McFerrin went into the studios of Riverside Records, and, accompanied by the pianist Norman Johnson, and over the course of two days, recorded this legendary album of spirituals, his only solo album, which is heard in its entirety in this episode. I am not alone in considering this a classic of the genre. My presentation of all fourteen tracks of this album is supplemented by three recordings that McFerrin made in 1946 for the short-lived Sunbeam Records label, the brainchild of composer and arranger Marl Henderson Young, who provides the accompaniments. At the other end of the spectrum is a guest appearance that McFerrin, Sr. made on a 1990 recording by his son, superstar singer, composer, and arranger Bobby McFerrin. I also feature a recently unearthed live recording of McFerrin singing Amonasro live in Napoli in 1956, as well as a moving recording of McFerrin performing live in Washington DC in 1995, after having suffered a debilitating stroke that left him virtually unable to speak. Nevertheless, the song, however compromised, was still in his heart.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.