Famous Arkansan: Robert McFerrin

Several well known people have roots in Arkansas. The list runs the gamut from Johnny Cash to Jermain Taylor. Check here every week as we highlight a new Famous Arkansan. This week: Robert McFerrin


Born in Marianna on March 19, 1921, Robert McFerrin Sr. ( 1921-2006) was the first African-American male to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Los Angeles Times critic Albert Goldberg described his voice as “a baritone of beautiful quality, even in all registers, and with a top that partakes of something of a tenor’s ringing brilliance.”
Father of Grammy Award-winning singer/musician Bobby McFerrin, he made his New York City Opera debut as Popaloi in the premier of William Grant Still’s Haitian opera, Troubled Island. Still is also an Arkansas native. McFerrin joined the New England Opera Company in 1950.
Three years later he won the Metropolitan Opera national auditions and became
the first African-American male to join the company. He made his debut in 1955 as Amonasro. His other roles at the house were Valentin (in Gounod’s Faust) and Rigoletto. He also sang
the role of Porgy (played onscreen by Sidney Poitier) in the soundtrack of the
1959 film of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. He toured internationally as a recitalist and was also active as a

Join the Conversation