Meher Baba: The Indian Mystic Who Inspired a Jazz Smash Hit

Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style
Ain’t got no gal to make you smile

It may seem too bizarre to be true, but an Indian mystic who was born in 1894 Bombay and spent 44 years of his life in total silence really did influence one of the most important (and Grammy-winning!) jazz songs in 1980s popular culture….

Meher Baba was an Indian spiritual guru who boasted hundreds of thousands of followers – or “Baba Lovers” – in India, as well as many across the US too.

Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

His trips to the West in the 1930s brought him to wider public consciousness, and frequent meetings with celebrities of the day made him something of a fascination in Hollywood and popular culture.

Despite his rejection of the type of propaganda that many spiritual leaders engaged in, this interest in the man who called himself ‘God in human form’ only grew.

In fact, whilst less widely known, it’s been estimated that during the 1970s (several years after his death) the movement had more disciples than the Hare Krishna movement, and counted The Who guitarist Pete Townshend amongst its followers.

But whilst his legacy includes the Avatar Meher Baba Charitable Trust in India, as well as various medical and veterinary centres, he left another mark on the world…

“Don’t Worry Be Happy”

Despite remaining silent for the final 44 years of his life and shunning evangelisation, Meher Baba was featured on many inspirational postcards and posters with his simple adage:

Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

This message remained long after the mystic’s death in 1969, and led to one of the greatest one-hit wonders of the 20th Century.

Story has it that American jazz duo Tuck & Patti had Baba’s inspirational quote displayed on a poster in their apartment.

Friend and frequent visitor Bobby McFerrin spied it, and was taken by the simple beauty of the idea.

Fast forward to 1988 and his song “Don’t Worry Be Happy” featured on his album Simple Pleasures and became a surprise worldwide hit.

In a move that Baba himself may well have approved of, McFerrin shunned pressure from his label to capitalise on the success by touring extensively, instead deciding to take an extended period of time off to be with his family.

Whilst fans of McFerrin will know him for his incredible vocal range and highly individual style, millions of others will be aware only of one of the greatest and perhaps most-surprise hits of the 20th Century.

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