“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”: The Story of a Former UIS Student-Turned-Sensation

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Photographs courtesy of www.jazz.org

In honor of Black History Month, The Journal recognizes Bobby McFerrin. The former University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) student, who later became a worldwide sensation, went on to garner countless musical achievements and accolades. Soon after his studies at UIS, Bobby McFerrin released his 1988 hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” In the years since the release of his massive song, Bobby McFerrin continues to use his melodic genius to take on further musical pursuits.

Before the impending University of Illinois merge, UIS was known as Sangamon State University. It was at Sangamon State University that Bobby McFerrin pursued his education from around 1975 through 1976. In light of Sangamon State’s campus population being wholly commuters, there was not much of a place for student organizations. However, this limitation did not stop McFerrin. In the one year he studied at Sangamon State, he later adopted the role of a Peer Group Counselor amongst other fellow Sangamon State students.

Though his days at UIS were short-lived, McFerrin was destined for sweeping success. It was 14 years after his UIS stint that Bobby McFerrin debuted his lead single “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” from his fourth studio album, Simple Pleasures. Upon release, the song took on a life of its own. A universal message withstanding the test of time, McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” went on to peak number one, spending 26 weeks on the Billboard charts. As the song continued to riddle through the minds of millions with its catchy melody, Bobby McFerrin swiftly rose to the ranks of stardom. The year following the release of his hit single, McFerrin received a Grammy award for Song of the Year, along with several other awards and nominations.

Today, Bobby McFerrin is still heavily intertwined in the music industry. Spreading his admiration for singing and music-making, McFerrin still shares his talents on the mainstage. In the pre-COVID world, Bobby McFerrin was set to take on concerts around the country, showcasing his technique. Spanning nearly 40 years in a successful music career, it is certain Bobby McFerrin has come a long way since his humble beginnings on our campus.