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Q&A: Michael Bolton

Best known for his soft rock ballads, soulful tenor vocals and that hair, multiple Grammy winner Michael Bolton has sold more than 70 million albums and opened for Ozzy Osbourne.

Donna Leahey
January 28, 2019

You know Michael Bolton as the smooth voice of many a love ballad. But do you know he’s a multiple Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and philanthropist with more than 70 million records sold globally?

A triple-threat of music, Bolton has written with, written for, and performed with some of the biggest names in every genre, including Bob Dylan, Paul Stanley, Lady Gaga, KISS, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and B.B. King. His performance in The Lonely Island’s Emmy winning “Captain Jack Sparrow” video made him a viral sensation. Recently, he’s been seen acting on such television shows as Glee, Fresh Off the Boat, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Bolton has most recently produced a feature-length documentary, American Dream: Detroit about the Renaissance of the Motor City.

To celebrate 50 years in the entertainment industry, Bolton has released a collection of his greatest hits in all-new versions backed by a full symphony orchestra. This unique United Kingdom performance brings a kaleidoscope of new colors and sounds to beloved classics including “Said I Loved You… But I Lied,” “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” “Time, Love and Tenderness,” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Bolton brings all of these and many more.

Q. Tell us about A Symphony of Hits.
A. What can I say? This is my life’s work. It’s a catalog of music that I’ve been performing for decades around the world, and each song has a different story and represents a different moment of time for me. I put all of me into a song and I am microscopic about production, bringing all the arrangements and instruments into a place of communicating the ultimate expression of that composition. It takes long hours in the studio with my patient, trusted loyal team of musicians and engineers to get a song to where I feel it’s ready. And now to add an entire symphony orchestra to the mix — wow. It was so moving and unexpectedly really emotional for me to dive so deeply into this catalog of music. I’m remembering how it felt with the first recording and how much it has evolved to where we are today. And with this collection celebrating my 50th year in music, it’s just shocking because I still feel like I’m just that kid back in Connecticut making ends meet.

Q. You are known for your social activism and dedication to humanitarian causes. Can you tell us more about your philanthropy and Michael Bolton Charities?
A. When I was a struggling musician with a family of five, we didn’t use the word “homelessness,” but that is an experience that was all too close for me. I vowed that if and when I had any success, I would do what I could to help families in need. Cut to 18 years later, I had my first hit and really had the industry supporting me. I learned quickly about the currency of celebrity as I was asked to perform at various events and fundraisers and for different causes. So, I knew it was time to pursue my own mission. Founded in 1993, the mission and purpose of The Michael Bolton Charities has been to respond to issues which adversely affect children and women at risk. These include domestic and street violence, poverty, abuse, neglect, homelessness, and human trafficking. Collaborations on innovative solutions, initiatives and programs have helped to provide critically needed services responding to immense challenges and compelling needs. The Michael Bolton Charities has benefited more than 100 organizations in cities across the country. We are now in our 25th year of this important work.

Q. What is Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special all about?
A. Coming this Feb. 7 is the anniversary of my Netflix special. It’s fun and funny to remember the shooting process with The Lonely Island and Comedy Bang Bang Team. With Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone and Scott Aukerman all at the reins, you just have to go all in. And that’s how we turned Valentine’s Day into a telethon to save Christmas for Santa Claus when the mass production of toys by his crazy elves demands that people start making more babies in time for holiday toy delivery.

It’s a hilarious premise but the execution is just spectacular. We have a cast to die for, including Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Chris Parnell, Sarah Silverman, Adam Scott, Michael Sheen, Fred Armisen, Randall Park, Bob Saget, Louie Anderson, Janeane Garofalo, Brooke Shields, Eric Andre, Casey Wilson, and so many more. They each participated in writing their parts and making them so unique and unforgettable.

Q. You’ve been seen on the small screen an awful lot. How does acting, especially in comedies, let you express yourself differently than music?
A. I think somewhere along the way, when I started to have success and became determined to never go back, I got really honed in and focused on my career, and people — or the media — may have perceived that as me being a serious person. But those who know me have always known I’m the biggest clown in the room. Singing, for me, is of course my first love and passion. But comedy is a close second, and when I can do both, it’s just the best. I absolutely love collaborating with comedians and finding funny ways of looking at life. Having a sense of humor is such an important way of dealing with our humanity.

Q. Tell us about some of your musical influences.
A. As a kid, I was always trying to sing along with whatever I could hear on the radio, and at that time a lot of it was coming out of Detroit. You may have heard about the documentary I’ve been producing about the Motor City and its comeback, but my interest there all started in the roots of music. My voice has always loved rhythm and blues and bending notes like instruments. Ray Charles is probably my biggest influence, with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder in my frequent playlist as well.

Q. Do you ever feel the urge to revisit your hard rock roots?
A. My band Blackjack [which opened for Ozzy Osbourne early in his musical career] was a bittersweet kind of thing. We had the full support of the label, working with the most incredible producers, and we made some great records. But for some reason, it just didn’t stick at the time. I do think about what it would be like to have followed that path. But instead, the president of Columbia Records at the time told me to take all the songs I was writing for other artists and keep them for myself. That’s when I started having hits.

Q. What’s this tour about and what can fans expect?
A. The “Symphony Sessions Tour” will be a taste of the album live. We are bringing some symphonic elements along with my awesome band to perform the greatest hits and a few other selections which have been arranged for orchestra as well. For me, there’s nothing better than performing with the support of a symphony onstage because it just elevates the musical experience.

Q. If you had to pick just one, would you write music or perform?
A. I really think they go hand in hand. As I mentioned, my career took off when I started recording and releasing the songs I was writing and giving away to other artists, like Cher, Streisand, and even KISS. There is an emotional connection to writing that flows through to the singing process, and I think that comes across in the songs that I’ve penned that are more personal to me. That said, I have a love of songs, and as an artist I love to interpret a great song no matter who wrote it and lend my own signature. That is also an exhilarating experience, especially when an homage brings me closer to the heroes of my youth, like singing with Ray Charles, Percy Sledge, and even Luciano Pavarotti.

Michael Bolton
Paradise Cove | River Spirit Casino Resort
8330 Riverside Parkway | Tulsa
Feb. 21: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend