[Robert McFerrin, Bobby McFerrin’s father]

I didn’t know (the eccentric singer-orchestra) Bob McFerrin’s father Robert McFerrin was a prominent opera singer, “the first black man to be signed to New York’s Metropolitan Opera” (1955). Thanks to Lynn for the info.

Apart from the traditional opera repertoire, McFerrin Sr. sang in Porgy and Bess, and that brought me back to an old question. Surely these days, if someone made a black character speak Bess’s English, it would sound racist and gross, even if the scene were set in an earlier period, say Mark Twain’s time. However, when Ira Gershwin wrote the libretto, he probably sought to show that common black people, despite lacking in education, were capable of true love, genuine suffering and deep religiosity. In this sense, the opera is humanizing. Of course, it is also THE American opera.

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