There was a period in the late '80s when you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing the song "Don't Worry Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin. McFerrin's upbeat, philosophical tune doles out some good advice: stop stressing, smile, and let everything work itself out.
It was a major hit worldwide, reaching number one on the U.S. Billboard charts in 1988 and catapulting McFerrin's fame. In 2001, the Recording Industry Association of America named the catchy composition one of the top 365 "Songs of the Century." This shows the lasting impact the song has had.
But how much do you know about this monster hit, and what inspired McFerrin to write it? Below, we have listed some fun facts about "Don't Worry Be Happy" that you may not know about.
An Indian Mystic Inspired McFerrin to Pen the Song
In the late '80s, McFerrin was visiting his friends Tuck Andress and Patti Cathcart (a jazz duo known as Tuck & Patti) when he spotted a curious looking poster in the couple's apartment. The poster was of Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba accompanied by the words, "Don't Worry — Be Happy."
Baba had passed away in 1969, but his quote was familiar to his Western followers. McFerrin found the simple message inspirational and positive and decided to create a song around them. During an interview, McFerrin stated that "Whenever you see a poster of Meher Baba, it usually says 'Don't worry, be happy,' which is a pretty neat philosophy in four words, I think."
McFerrin "Plays" Every Instrument on the Song
McFerrin, who is a very talented American jazz vocalist, is very adept at making unique vocalizations in addition to singing. "Don't Worry Be Happy" is sung by him entirely in a cappella, and that includes the rhythm like sounds that sound like they were made by an instrument.
McFerrin whistles in the song as well. He performed each vocalization separately and the audio recordings were overdubbed to give the impression of more than one person performing on the track.
Another fun fact is that the composition became the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The Song is Erroneously Attributed to Bob Marley
Some uploads of the song on YouTube incorrectly attribute it to reggae legend Bob Marley. This could be partly because McFerrin sings the song in what sounds like a Caribbean accent, or it could be because Marley's hit "Three Little Birds" has a similar message. That song contains the lyrics, "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing is gonna be alright."
But Marley died in 1981, seven years before "Don't Worry Be Happy" was released. McFerrin has never publicly commented on the misstep, but at least these mistakes keep his song playing.
Robin Williams Stars in the Song's Music Video
Yes, that's the late comedian and actor Robin Williams starring alongside McFerrin and actor/clown Bill Irwin in the music video to the song. We don't know how well McFerrin and Williams knew each other before the song was released, but we do know they recorded a cover version of the Beatles' "Come Together" in 1998.
The Song Made McFerrin a Household Name
McFerrin launched his professional career in 1970 and released his first album in 1982. It took him six years to develop his musical style, which he wanted to be unique and set him apart from other singers. But unless you were a jazz fan, you probably hadn't heard of McFerrin.
After the success of "Don't Worry Be Happy", however, everybody knew his name thanks to the song's heavy radio play and its music video. McFerrin began to work on a lot more musical projects as a result.
He appeared on TV specials, recorded his version of The Cosby Show theme for season four, and composed music for one of Pixar's first short films, Knick Knack.
Now 68, McFerrin has released over 15 albums since "Don't Worry Be Happy" was a hit. He has also racked up ten Grammy awards including three in 1989 for the song: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
In 2018, he received a "Lifetime Achievement" award during the A Cappella Music Awards event. Today's he's just about as iconic as Wu-Tang Clan. That's not a bad legacy for creating a song with four simple words in the title.
President George H.W. Bush Loved the Song
President George H.W. Bush was a fan of the song — so much so, that he used it as his 1988 official presidential campaign song. However, he did so without McFerrin's consent. McFerrin publicly stated that he wasn't voting for Bush and didn't want him to use the song.
He also stopped performing the song during concerts. When the Bush campaign learned of this development, they finally dropped using the song during campaign stops.
McFerrin Never Performs the Song Live
Because the song consisted of so many overdubs to give the impression of more than one person singing it, McFerrin doesn't perform it live in front of audiences. The full effect is impossible to recreate live.
The Song Topped the Charts in Several Countries
It seems Americans are not the only ones who appreciate the song's optimism. "Don't Worry Be Happy" reached number one on the music charts in Austria, West Germany, Australia, and Iceland. Iceland is one of the world's happiest countries, so it's not surprising the song resonated with people there.
Spread the Message of Don't Worry Be Happy
These fun facts prove that a lot of people love the song "Don't Worry Be Happy." It's become a timeless catchphrase that has gotten many people through a challenging time. We can thank McFerrin and Mehar Baba for these positive words of wisdom!
Would you like to help spread the message of "Don't Worry Be Happy"? Shop our happy face shirt collection with fun smiley face designs that sure to help you and others who see it feel upbeat.