The Washington Post says after winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1953, McFerrin debuted at the Met in 1955 as Amonasro in "Aida."
McFerrin sang vocals for the lead character played by Sidney Poitier in Otto Preminger's 1959 movie adaptation of "Porgy and Bess."
He was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2004.
McFerrin was born in Marianna, Ark., one of eight children. His father was a Baptist minister who reportedly allowed his children to sing only gospel music.
McFerrin is survived by his second wife Athena, his two children, three grandchildren and a sister. His son, Bobby McFerrin Jr., is the Grammy-winning vocalist who sang the 1980's hit, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."