McFerrin's 'Don't Worry' Wins Top Single Grammy

Times Pop Music Critic

Bobby McFerrin's upbeat, a capella sing-along "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was declared the best single record in the 31st annual Grammy Awards ceremony Wednesday night at the Shrine Auditorium.

McFerrin also won awards for best song, male pop vocal and male jazz vocal, bringing to nine the number of Grammys that the jazz vocalist has won since 1985.

He shared top honors in the nationally televised National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences competition with George Michael, whose slickly honed "Faith" was named album of the year.

Tracy Chapman, 24, was voted best new artist, female pop vocalist and contemporary folk artist, but fell three awards short of fulfilling widespread industry predictions that she would become the most honored debut artist in the 31-year history of the Grammys. That mark continues to be held by pop-rock singer Christopher Cross, whose 1980 debut album led to five Grammys.

Chapman's loss in the prestigious album and record categories also represented, to some pop observers, a setback for the progressive wing of the 6,000-member music academy, which had pointed to best album victories by Paul Simon's "Graceland" in 1987 and U2's "The Joshua Tree" in 1988 as signs the Grammy voters were in closer step with the musical times.

Where Grammy voters (artists, musicians, songwriters, producers) were criticized in the '60s and '70s for often defining pop achievement chiefly in narrow, technical terms, the tendency in recent years has been to acknowledge music's role in describing and in some ways influencing the times in which we live.

Chapman's six nominations (she was also nominated for best song) had been hailed by pop music observers in recent weeks as a continuation of that progressive tradition.

Although George Michael has made great strides in building artistic credibility since his near-bubble-gum days as the leader of the duo Wham!, his victory with "Faith" was a surprise. The album was widely praised for its pop craft, but it lacked the originality and boldness--to most critics--associated with the Chapman LP, which is filled with themes of welfare mothers and victimized children.

While her album finished third this week in a Village Voice poll of 212 pop critics representing a comprehensive sampling of national opinion, "Faith" was 22nd.

Even more surprising to some pop observers Wednesday was the McFerrin victory. "Fast Car" was named the year's best single in the Voice poll, while the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" failed to make the Top 20.

About "Don't Worry, Be Happy," McFerrin said backstage: "It was so popular because it went to the spirit of the times. . . . People wanted to hear something that was uplifting."

He also disagreed with suggestions the song lacked social significance. "We can make social changes by our own inner workings . . . the way we take care of ourselves, the way we view ourselves," he told reporters.

"I think that happiness opposed to worrying is a very strong issue . . . I'm a very socially conscious being and I think . . . (you can help people by) being strong and courageous . . . not just having a smile on your face. That's very pollyanish. That's not what the song is talking about. It's about listening to someone when they are in trouble."

Other artists who picked up multiple awards Wednesday included Anita Baker, best female rhythm and blues vocal and best rhythm and blues song; the Irish rock band U2, saluted for rock group vocal and music performance video; K. T. Oslin, country song and female country vocal; Robin Williams, children's recording and comedy recording; Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, classical album, orchestral recording and choral recording, and Sir Georg Solti, opera recording and chamber music.

Solti's awards pushed his number of Grammys to 28, an academy record. Composer-arranger Henry Mancini, who leads the non-classical contingent in number of awards (20), was nominated in two categories, but lost in both.

The event's only friction occurred when three nominees for the newly established rap category boycotted the telecast because the rap award was handed out in pre-telecast ceremony rather than on camera.

Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of rap duo D. J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, said at an afternoon press conference in West Hollywood, "We're not anti-Grammy. Our problem is with the 1989 Grammy Awards show. It's like you go to school for 12 years and they give you a diploma, but you aren't allowed to walk down the aisle.

"It's not like we got F's through school, we got straight A's," he said, referring to the group's artistic and sales credentials. The duo's latest album, "He's the D.J., I'm the Rapper," has sold more than 2 million copies. Also not attending the ceremony: rap nominees Salt-N-Pepa and L. L. Cool J.

As it turned out, D. J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince won the rap award. Jethro Tull, the veteran English rock group, was named the winner in another new category, hard rock/metal.

The late Roy Orbison won a second career Grammy, this time for his country vocal collaboration with k.d. lang on a remake of his own '60s hit, "Crying."

After accepting the award for her husband, who died of a heart attack on Dec. 6, Barbara Orbison said backstage, "Roy was so fortunate to have felt the love of the fans and the whole world before he passed on."

On a lighter note, veteran blues man Willie Dixon, whose win in the best traditional blues recording category was his first Grammy, quipped to the press backstage, "Better late than never. I give in and I give out, but I don't give up."

First time winners in jazz Wednesday included Take 6 (group vocal, soul gospel by a group), Betty Carter (female vocal), Michael Brecker (solo instrumental). Others winning Grammys for the first time included Carlos Santana (rock instrumental), Bill Monroe (blue grass), Shadowfax (new age recording), Roberto Carlos (Latin pop performance), Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers (reggae), Terence Trent D'Arby (male rhythm and blues vocal).

Repeat winners: Tina Turner, named female rock singer for the third time; Robert Palmer, male rock vocalist for the second time; Randy Travis, male country singer for the second straight year; Linda Ronstadt, best Mexican-American performance, her fourth award; Manhattan Transfer, pop group vocal, the group's seventh award; Amy Grant, female gospel performance, fifth award; Larnelle Harris, male gospel performance, fifth award; David Sanborn, pop instrumental, fifth award; Robert Cray Band, contemporary blues recording, third award.

"Into the Woods" was judged best musical cast show album, while Mike Post's "The Theme From L.A. Law" was named best instrumental composition. "The Last Emperor" was voted best album of original musical score written for a motion picture or television. Phil Collins' "Two Hearts" was named best song written for a motion picture or television.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson won a Grammy in the spoken-documentary field for a speech that was included in Aretha Franklin's "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism" album.

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