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ST LOUIS - Robert McFerrin, the first black man to sing solo at the New York Metropolitan Opera, has died.
The father of Grammy Award-winning conductor and vocalist Bobby Jr, McFerrin died on Friday of a heart attack. He was 85.
McFerrin won the Metropolitan Opera's national auditions in 1953. His 1955 debut in Aidamade him the Met's first black male member and came three weeks after contralto Marian Anderson made her historic debut as the first black to sing a principal role at the Met.
McFerrin performed in 10 operas.
He also provided the vocals for Sidney Poitier in the 1959 movie Porgy and Bess. His son, Bobby Jr, is best known for the 1980s hit Don't Worry, Be Happy.
McFerrin's daughter, Brenda McFerrin, is also a recording artist and he sang with both children.
"His work influenced everything I do musically," Bobby McFerrin said in 2003.
"When I direct a choir, I go for his sound.
"I cannot do anything without hearing his voice."
McFerrin was born in Arkansas, one of eight children of a strict Baptist minister who forbade his son to sing anything but gospel music.
That changed when McFerrin moved to StLouis in 1936 and a music teacher discovered his talent.
In the 1940s and 1950s he sang on Broadway and performed with the National Negro Opera Company and the New York City Opera Company.
He had a stroke in 1989 but continued to perform.
McFerrin married his second wife, Athena, in 1994.- Sapa-AP