Father's Footsteps

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 - 04:39 PM

Multi-faceted musician Bobby McFerrin is well known for his style of vocalizing that addresses many musical genres. Perhaps less known is Bobby's father, baritone Robert McFerrin who made history when he sang with New York City Opera in 1949. He also made history when he won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air in 1953, which led to a historic appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955.

I recently moderated a discussion about Robert McFerrin with his son Bobby at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  In our conversation, Bobby talked about how as a child, he would sit under the piano while his father and his father's classical music friends would have jam sessions in their home.  Bobby talked about the family listening to Count Basie, Beethoven, Bach and Ellington without differentiating between musical styles. He glowingly shared anecdotes about his father's teaching style talked and his attitudes about music, and how all of it informs his own music making. Under Leonard Bernstein Bobby studied conducting, but he says when standing in front of an orchestra, it is his father's voice that he aims for when leading the band through the music. I asked Bobby whether it was difficult for him to follow his father's footsteps; I'm not sure that he actually answered the question, but clearly he's found his passion and his own unique voice. 

I didn't follow my father's vocation into church ministry, what about you? did you follow in either of your parents' footsteps or are your children following in yours?

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Comments [15]

Mardi-Ellen Hill from NYC

A really terrific topic. It struck my eye, as I have written a work in honor of the soprano Phyllis Curtin. Phyllis was a guiding force in my early life. The role of the matriarch, Rose Barrington is written in honor of Phyllis- in my five book series: THE SPELL OF VAUGIRARD --It is a multi-gnerational story about the dynamic power of singing and the transference of talent and power over the ages; and how ti resrufaces at all odds! See: www.menduniversebuzz.wordpress.com Post a comment please! Thanks so much for bringing this beautiful father/ son story to our eyes and ears,
If I remember correctly, Phyllis was/is good friends with the
McFerrin Family.

Best, Mardi-Ellen Hill

Apr. 23 2010 10:25 AM
Eveth from hackensack

Good evening Mr. McKnight, it is my pleasure to enjoy this radio station. But when I hear your voice, I really listen to what you say..to everyone on this station, keep up the great job. My father is a dreamer, a philosopher minded man, a Christ-ian, a wonderful thinker, kind hearted, wise, dignified..long list, we his children, have greatly attempted to emulate these great characteristics of our father in our own way. My desire is for his genetic seed to bring forth the good fruit and traits so the many can experience the greatness of my humble dad...Oscar who just celebrated his 77 birthday and we are blessed to have him with us.

Apr. 01 2010 07:23 PM
MCD from Somewhere over the rainbow

It's ironic that you didn't follow your father's vocation. When I first heard your voice, I wanted to ask you if you were a minister. Your voice reminded me so much of the Baptist preachers I grew up listening to...I followed in my father's & my mother's vocation @ some point in time; however I found the need to do my own thing. I currently teach Sopecial Education @ the high school level; which is both challenging & rewarding. Don't know what will happen for the next school term with all the budget cuts but I do know that whatever it is or wherever it is it will be great!! I still enjoy the show whenever I get the opportunity to listen. Take care!!

Mar. 28 2010 02:32 PM
Harold Lay from Levittown, Long Island, NY

I am a Protestant clergy person, a pastor of a church on Long Island. I am the first clergy person in my known family history. My father was a production manager for a paint factory in Brooklyn. My mother was a secretary, then a domestic manager (stayed home raising three children). My sister is a RN, my brother a newspaper copy editor.

My daughter graduated from divinity school, but works as a social worker, managing a program for independent adults with limited social skills. My son has a MBA and is a financial analyst in NYC.

Family ties have always been important but we all were free to pursue our own dreams.

Thank you for the topic.

Mar. 25 2010 02:39 PM
June Severino Feldman from NYC

My parents' footsteps lead me and my sister and brother to follow our own paths. Dad was musical - each of us has instrumental and/or music as an avocation. Mom was a foodie -- we all cook up a storm. Both were literate, interested in politics and social justice. Ditto for the three of us. And for our children. Dad was an engineer as is my brother; this is the only professional 'footstep following' in our family. The three of remain most grateful for where our parents' efforts on our behalf has led us.

Mar. 23 2010 11:23 PM
Joseph Rutkowski from New York, NY

What a great topic!

I am proud to say that my two sons and I have a jazz trio called the Rutkowski Trio

and we have followed in the footsteps of:
my father's (Joseph Sr.)
father's (Vincent)
father's (Bruno)
father's (John)
In his youth, I (Joseph, Jr.) played in a trio with my brother, Andy
and our father Joseph Sr. And this tradition of cross-generation
musical combos goes back to the 1800’s.
Rutkowski Musical Family Tree:
Benjamin & Daniel & Joseph in 1990s to present
Joseph, Andy on drums Grandpa Joe Sr. in 1960’s
Joe Sr & his brother Willy on trumpet and Great Grandpa Vincent on
accordion in 1940’s
Great Grandpa Vincent (accordion), his brother Bruno with their father,
your Great Great Grandpa Rutkowski John in the 1920’s
Great Great Grandpa John (violin, his brother Andrew (viola) and their
father in the late 1800’s in Poland.

Mar. 23 2010 09:12 PM
SusanW from NYC

Both of my parents were hard workers...my dad worked as Property Admin of Kings County Hospital for forty years and my mom worked in the old Gimbels Dept. Store (any New Yorkers remember Gimbels?). I worked in the beauty industry for many years, then got tired of the drama and preening and switched to law...more drama, less preening. And, like my parents, I do a lot of volunteer work. Theirs was community service minded, mine is arts oriented. One thing all three of us shared was our love of WQXR, that's been a constant.

Aside to the poster above: What does it mean to play music on a "consistent" basis? Does that mean only the music you prefer? Or should it mean consistently challenging and evolving programming? Obviously, I prefer the latter but, hey, that's just me.

Mar. 23 2010 07:26 PM
Frank Feldman

Thanks for the Bruckner. Very interesting performance. Drop dead gorgeous but curiously inert. I suppose just what one should expect from Boulez.

Mar. 22 2010 11:40 PM
tomya Ryans

Tonight (3/22) is a lovely show for a rainy night.

Mar. 22 2010 09:55 PM
Vance Vaucresson from New Orleans

I am following in my father and grandfather's footsteps in the meat industry, but I followed my oldest brother's footsteps into music. He was an Opera singer and he influenced me to fall in love with opera and classical music. I then studied vocal performance in college and still sing today. I do keep my day job in the sausage business, but sing when I can to continue my dream. You are doing a great job, Terrance. Your voice and commentary was made for this format. Keep up the great work!

Mar. 22 2010 09:47 PM
Frank Feldman

OK, I'm convinced! Now I'm just hoping Buxtehude's and Schutz's, etc., middle names are Snagglepuss or Heironymus!

Mar. 21 2010 06:13 PM

Frank - About the Bachs, absolutely, and listener comments like yours are invaluable - thank you. Regarding the JS Bach moniker, I've attached a comment from a fellow listener:

Frank Coffee - NYC
Sebastian Bach is spot on correct for the master. In the German style of the period the first name–in this case Johann–was the throwaway, much like our middle names today. By the same token, it would be perfectly reasonable to call CPE Phil Bach. JC went to London and became John Christian or Chris Bach. Those boys go around!

Dec. 21 2009 10:22 PM

Mar. 19 2010 07:45 AM
Frank Feldman

How about playing music of the elder Bachs as part of your addressing this interesting issue? I wish you wouldn't simply call him Sebastian Bach, but you seem to be committed to it. After all, you don't call Wolfgang "Amadeus Mozart"!

Mar. 18 2010 09:07 PM
Coemgen Moor

Mr. McKnight has a great radio voice...if only he would play music on a consistant basis.

Now when I turn on wqxr at night and here cacphonny, I know it his show and turn it off.

Mar. 16 2010 09:50 PM

I'm a visual artist with an only child, a daughter (who has made me a grandfather and who has another baby on the way). After I got out of The School of Visual Arts in NYC in the early 70's, I worked as a dishwasher, then a cafeteria manager and cook, and over the decades I did many non-art things to support myself as an artist. I finally managed to break into the illustration field and get work into publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and Psychology Today.

Because I had such a tough time making ends meet as an artist, I tried to discourage my daughter from going into the arts. As it turned out, she did, but in a wholly practical way. Today she is an architectural designer who design medical centers, and she is well-rewarded for what she does and she really enjoys it.

BTW, I look forward to your show every evening, Mr. McKnight. Your voice, your presence, and the musical selections you play are all great. Thank you.

Mar. 16 2010 09:01 PM

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