When Michael Bolton takes the stage, he has more in common with his audience than many might assume. “The same way the fans love those songs, I love performing them,” says the singer of his extensive repertoire. “I believe the hits are evergreen; they speak to you differently across different stages of your life.”
Bolton’s songs have certainly done just that for countless listeners across the globe, with Grammy Award-winning hits ranging from 1989’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” to the 1997 smash cover of “When a Man Loves a Woman.” In the process, Bolton has sold more than 75 million records, racked up eight top-10 singles, and reinvented himself through a raunchy viral video and high-profile duets with artists such as Lady Gaga and Ray Charles.
On November 25, the Billboard Award-winning singer will bring his signature brand of melodic soul to the Tarrytown Music Hall. Audiences can expect all the songs that have made Bolton a household name, as well as a whole lot more. “I’m always conscious that my lifelong fans are coming to hear the greatest hits,” he says. “But I also like to introduce my audience to new genres and musical guests. The repertoire is always evolving; I like to make the concert into a real musical journey and tell stories along the way.”
From his earliest days growing up in Connecticut, Bolton’s own story has been closely linked to music. “I was drawn to music as early as I can remember,” he recalls. “My mother was a big music appreciator and used to play the piano, and my brother was always turning me on to new bands. As a family, we would gather around the TV and watch musical performers on the Ed Sullivan Show, and I remember being able to sing along with just about any melody on the radio.
With such an extensive background in singing, Bolton blossomed early. He was first signed as a recording artist at the age of 15 and soon began taking any gig he could find. “I would perform at birthdays or bar mitzvahs or anywhere people would listen. I was performing in bars before I was old enough to drink in them,” he says. “I was busking from Greenwich Village to California. Those times were all memorable because there was a real environment of music.”
Bolton first hit it big singing lead vocals for the hard-rock band Blackjack. When the band began to fizzle after a few years on the road, Bolton was surprised to be offered a chance at a solo career by the label’s head. “Apparently, the secretaries in the office were all listening to my demos and passing them around,” he says with a laugh.
Bolton was soon lighting up the charts with interpretations of classic songs such as “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” and “Georgia on My Mind.” The smash-hit he wrote for Laura Branigan, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” had just missed the Billboard top 10 when it was first released in 1983 but, back in Bolton’s hands, earned him a Grammy six years later.
With his fame on the rise, Bolton sang alongside some of the world’s greatest artists, including Patty LaBelle, José Carreras, Ray Charles, and Wynona Judd. Of the many collaborations, Bolton recalls one particularly fondly.
“I don’t think there are words to describe the experience of performing with Luciano Pavarotti,” he shares. “I spent months training my voice, learning the lyrics, stretching my melodies, and, even still, when I walked onto that stage, I was trembling. [Pavarotti] said, ‘I see you have been studying the tenor.’ I responded, ‘I have been studying you.’ It was one of the most magical experiences of my life.”
Yet despite his worldwide fame and renowned collaborators, helping those in need has been central to Bolton’s life. In 1993, the artist established a foundation, now called The Michael Bolton Charities, to protect women and children from poverty and abuse. He also currently serves as chairman or board member for several philanthropic organizations, including Prevent Child Abuse America and The National Mentoring Partnership.
“Early on, as a struggling artist trying to support a wife and three daughters, I was continuously facing the risk of homelessness,” shares Bolton. “That was terrifying, but I had no backup plan. I vowed that if and when I ever came into success, I would find ways to bring support to women and children at risk.”
Once he realized his fame could serve as a megaphone, Bolton became personally involved in legislation around VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) and began fundraising for his own foundation, “which disperses funds to organizations around the country that are addressing this critical issue of women and children at risk,” according to Bolton.
That doesn’t mean the artist is anywhere near finished entertaining. After once again capturing the public’s interest in 2011, with his humorous viral video collaboration with Lonely Island, Bolton has begun development on a scripted comedy, as well as a broadcast special to launch his upcoming body of music. “There is a slate of other TV and film projects I’m in development or production on, including a documentary we just completed on the revitalization of Detroit,” says Bolton.
Despite this wide-ranging work, the stage — and singing for his fans in particular — continually calls back to Bolton. “There’s nothing like the energy you feel when performing live for an audience,” he says. “I would be nothing without my fans; they mean everything to me.”