Multi-Grammy-winning vocalist Bolton pleased to sing favorites, holiday tunes

Michael Bolton
Michael Bolton
| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Michael Bolton lives a lot of his life on the road. The multi-Grammy-winning vocalist has learned many lessons from his decades of touring.

“My general belief is that people are coming for the greatest hits, for songs that they've known and lived with,” Bolton says. “Everyone I know who is a huge fan of artists or groups, when they go to see them, they come away disappointed if they don't hear enough of the biggest hits.

Bolton will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fawzi Haimor, on Dec. 18 at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

The program will include many of the pop singer-songwriter's hits and also a holiday repertoire. Expect “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” “Time, Love and Tenderness,” and “Georgia on My Mind.” He'll apply his touch to Christmas favorites, including “a kind of rock version” of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “White Christmas” and “Ave Maria.”

Although Bolton began as a rock singer in the mid-'70s, he enjoyed his greatest success starting in the late '80s when he changed his style to soft ballads and adult-contemporary styles and had eight Top 10 albums.

Some of his recent commercial work has seemed to have a wry attitude toward his own celebrity.

“My attitude, or my learned, acquired, educated perspective on celebrity is not to be fooled by it,” Bolton says. “When I enjoy someone's work as an actor, musician or writer/composer, I want to enjoy them when I meet them. But when people are full of themselves, you don't enjoy meeting them.”

He recalls the eight years he worked before his first hit and that, when he first started having success, he felt like Forrest Gump running into the end zone and out of the football stadium.

“The best thing about celebrity, far and away, is not being able to get great seats at baseball games, although I wouldn't knock that,” he says. “The best thing about celebrity is that you can use it as a type of currency for causes you believe in.”

He has received several humanitarian awards and is proud of the work of the now 20-year-old Michael Bolton Charities, which advocates for women and children at risk.

Bolton recieved a Grammy nomination for his version of “Georgia on My Mind,” and sang the song for Ray Charles when Charles was honored by International Jazz Hall of Fame Awards in 1997.

“It was an out-of-body experience for me,” he says. “He was one of my biggest influences growing up, if I've grown up. His phrasing and story-telling and the way he bent notes made a song his own. When we rehearsed for the show, I walked over to him, shook his hand say, ‘The student finally gets to meet the master.' He just grinned ear to ear, a really big smile.”

A tenor all his life, Bolton also got to perform with Luciano Pavarotti. He is one of the performers who sang duets with the legendary Italian tenor on a 1996 Decca album to benefit the children of Bosnia.

“The invitation to perform with Pavarotti was life-altering. I was touring the world over and over again, and this invitation stopped me in my tracks,” Bolton says.

As he was listening to Pavarotti records — “the greatest voice I've ever heard” — Bolton wondered what he had been doing with his voice.

But when he met Pavarotti, he says the Italian tenor said to him, “You don't sell as many records as you do if you're not doing the right things with your voice.”

Bolton was as nervous singing with Pavarotti as he had been singing for Charles. Bolton says Pavarotti was amused Bolton used phonetic cue cards for singing in Italian. A year later, Bolton recorded “My Secret Passion,” a collection of opera arias.

He'll include “Nessun Dorma,” Pavarotti's signature aria from Giacomo Puccini's “Turandot,” on his Heinz Hall program.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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