Bobby McFerrin prefers the quiet of his hotel suite to sightseeing even though he is on his first visit to Abu Dhabi. “I haven't had a chance to see the city,'' says the singer best known for the hit Don't Worry, Be Happy.

“But I don't particularly care for sightseeing because of the crowds and the noise. I tend to stay in my room.'' McFerrin was in the city for the Abu Dhabi Classics earlier this month.

While on tour, he has to meet several people. “A lot of activity goes on. So I like to stay calm and focused. I want an environment that helps me think,'' he says.

McFerrin was born on March 11, 1950, in New York to Robert McFerrin Sr, the first African American to be a regular with New York's Metropolitan Opera, and Sarah Cooper, an aspiring singer.

From a very early age, he was exposed to a variety of musical styles and genres. “I grew up in a family which not only enjoyed classical music but also jazz and rhythm and blues. So speaking these varied musical languages is easy for me,'' Bobby said, tapping his fingers on his thigh.

McFerrin studied music at the California State College at Sacramento and the Cerritos College before joining a band called the Ice Follies.

He made his debut as a singer in 1977 but got his lucky break when he met legendary comedian Bill Cosby, who arranged for him to perform in the 1980 Playboy Jazz Festival. In 1982, McFerrin released his self-titled debut album.

In 1984, he made history with The Voice, becoming the first person to release a solo vocal album without any accompaniment.

Don't Worry, Be Happy, the song that catapulted him to fame, was not part of the original line-up of songs for the album Simple Pleasures released in 1988. It was added to the album after McFerrin penned it while taking a break during the recording of another song.

Don't Worry, Be Happy became so popular that even to this day, it can be heard as a jingle for advertisements, on radio, at parties and in karaoke.

The song was even used during George W. Bush's re-election campaign, to the dismay of McFerrin because it was done without his permission.

“It's OK now but in the beginning I resented how people saw me through the lens of this one song. I haven't performed it in concert from start to finish in over 20 years.

I think the last time I did was in November 1989 and I haven't ever thought about performing it again,'' McFerrin says, an expression of annoyance briefly flashing across his face.

He has since gone on to found a voicechestra group and tried his hand at conducting. He has also collaborated with many renowned artistes, including the acclaimed cellist Yo Yo Ma.

“I'm a singer who likes to conduct,'' McFerrin says. “I wanted to do some conducting to see what it's like — it's great. I loved conducting Mozart and Beethoven. I also learnt a lot about my weaknesses. If I had to choose, it would be singing.''

McFerrin also had a keen interest in learning about various cultures and musical styles. “I always enjoy learning from other musicians. Everyone has their own way of approaching music.

I like to step inside their musical world to see what they are thinking, where they are going,'' he says.

For an artiste with an impressive record of ten Grammy Awards and an extensive repertoire and experience, McFerrin is humble and down-to-earth.

Reading the Bible every day is one of the habits that keeps him grounded, he says. “When my mind isn't working on music, I like to read the scriptures. I like the Book of Psalms the most. It is like a mirror in which you can see yourself. It helps you understand yourself and others.''

Family life — with wife Debbie, sons Taylor and Jevon and daughter Madison — also helps. “I wake up at 6am and spend an hour and a half reading the scriptures and praying.

"Then I take my dogs out for a walk and help my wife around the house. It is nice, quiet, regular and simple,'' McFerrin says wistfully. “It takes a lot to persuade me to leave that [lifestyle] but I have to work. It is not that I don't want to work, it's just difficult to leave.''

Music, he says, allows him to grow as a person and an artiste.