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A Man of Many Talents: Michael Bolton Talks Music, Philanthropy, and Captain Jack Sparrow

Aug 16, 2018 04:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Michael Bolton has proven to be a jack-of-all-trades. Best known as a multiple Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, Bolton has sold over 65 million albums and singles worldwide, has had nine studio albums rank in the Top Ten, and nine #1 singles. But his achievements don’t end with his numerous musical achievements and accolades.

In 1993, Bolton founded Michael Bolton Charities, Inc. with the mission of assisting women and children at risk, and expanding opportunities for youth across socioeconomic and multicultural lines. The organization has raised over $10 million from contributions and net income from special events, which has benefitted over 100 organizations providing direct services to women and children across the country. 

Aside from his love ballads and philanthropic work, Bolton recently began showing off his comedic side. In 2011, Bolton appeared in The Lonely Island’s Emmy-nominated video “Captain Jack Sparrow”, which premiered on Saturday Night Live and gained over 170 million views on YouTube. Since then, he’s appeared on hit television comedies like Two and a Half Men, Fresh Off the Boat, and HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Last winter, Bolton released Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special on Netflix, which ranked among the network’s best comedies upon debut.

Michael Bolton will be performing at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Tuesday, August 21st, 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $75–100 and are available here.

In addition to your wildly successful career as a musician, you’re also very involved in humanitarian causes, specifically The Michael Bolton Charities. Could you tell me a bit about some of the philanthropic organizations you’re involved with, and the work they do? Why are these causes important to you?

Early on as a struggling artist and trying to support a wife and three daughters, I was constantly facing the risk of homelessness. That was terrifying. But I had no backup plan. I vowed that if and when I ever came into success, that I would find ways to bring support to women and children at risk. I was in the process of exploring the shelters around my hometown in Connecticut when I discovered that domestic violence is one of the leading reasons women and their children were driven to seek safety in the shelters. Being the father of three daughters, it was just unthinkable to me that a man could ever raise his hand to a woman or child. It’s just not how I was raised. So, I became very personally involved in legislation around VAWA (Violence Against Women Act).
I also realized from performing at various fundraisers that celebrity is a kind of currency, and so I started fundraising around my own foundation, The Michael Bolton Charities. The mission 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. Over 25 years, collaborations on innovative solutions, programs, and projects have helped to provide critically needed services responding to immense challenges and compelling needs—making a difference in lives. The Michael Bolton Charities has benefited more than 100 organizations in cities across the country—highly regarded and accredited agencies providing direct services to children and women at risk. Some of these agencies include: Prevent Child Abuse America, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Brooklyn Family Justice Center (NYC Office to Combat Domestic Violence), The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. 
In 2011, you showed off your comedic side when you appeared in The Lonely Island’s video, “Captain Jack Sparrow”, which gained more than 170 million views on YouTube and was nominated for an Emmy. How did you end up being a part of that video? Were you surprised by how big the response to this video was? Can you tell me a little bit about how that project eventually turned into your own Netflix special?

It all started with MacGruber actually! A funny feature spoof on MacGyver directed by Jorma Taccone, who is one third of the Lonely Island’s three-headed monster of creative genius. They licensed one of my songs for the film soundtrack, and next thing I knew, they were on with my manager talking about this idea they had about me singing a homage to the Pirates of the Caribbean as Captain Jack Sparrow. 

We all met face-to-face and they were like, “our moms can’t believe we are sitting here with Michael Bolton.” I was like, “my daughters can’t believe I’m sitting here with The Lonely Island.” When they played me the song, the first thing I noticed was, of course, the big sexy hook! But the second thing I noticed is that a lot of the language would be, how shall I say, rather offensive to some people. So, they actually spent about seven months working on the lyrics with me to a place where everyone was happy, and I went into a studio in the middle of my tour to record it, which was like making a full-on record, with stacked vocals and full production. These guys are serious about their work! We then filmed for two full 16-hour days in New York and it was like they were making a movie. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much on a project. They were hilarious, but they were also perfectionists and that’s what I love about them. 

That weekend we debuted the video live on SNL, and I just remember crouching in the back of the audience hoping to hear people laugh and sure enough, everyone broke into hysterics. The next day, the video went to a million views and a whole new audience was showing up on my social media. Since then, we are at almost 200 million YouTube views and of course it let people on to the fact that I have a sense of humor and like getting in on the joke. I love singing and I love laughing. I went on to collaborate with Funny or Die, and we achieved Immortal Status for the spoof on Office Space. I was recently nominated for an Emmy for my work with DEFY’s ScreenJunkies channel. We’ve done funny skits with Vanity Fair, Wired, Pitch Fork, and lots of commercial campaigns, all drawing on that magical combination of music and humor. I am in the entertainment business, so my job is to entertain people and when I get a positive reaction, that just fuels me to do more. The Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special was an idea that myself and my manager developed with The Lonely Island team and Comedy Bang! Bang! As soon as we pitched it to Netflix, they were like “we get it, we’re in.” It was a dream team to work with and we always have more in development. So stay tuned!
Your 23rd studio album, Songs of Cinema, was released in early 2017. Can you tell me about this project? What can fans expect from you and your music in the coming years?

The Songs of Cinema concept represents the most beloved songs from the most iconic movies of all time. I’ve always been a huge fan of the movies. I love all the classics from Casablanca to The Wizard of Oz. For my recording of the classic “As Time Goes By,” I delivered a soft, mellow performance on a gentle musical arrangement to align with that kind of timeless romance for the movie. But then for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” we had created a unique, samba-influenced musical production to play with the rhythm and sense of magic. 

When we had the opportunity to produce Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special for Netflix, I was very excited about finding creative ways to integrate music into the show, so many of the songs from the album are in the special, including the ballad version of “Jack Sparrow.” What’s really fun about the repertoire I chose for the Songs of Cinema album is that it is very diverse—from R&B to Pop and Rock and Standards—but also includes very recognizable and well-known songs, so when I perform the new songs live at my concerts, the audience will already know them. That array of musical styles and genres is, I think, what my audience has come to expect of me and it creates a really unique musical journey for them when we perform live. The next album is sure to have a variety of genres as well, which will still be familiar and fun to sing along.
You’ve sold more than 65 million albums and singles worldwide, you’ve won multiple Grammy awards, you’ve collaborated with several legendary musicians, you’ve written a book, you’ve made appearances on hit television shows and films, and you’ve received Humanitarian awards for your dedication to social activism. It truly seems like you can, and have, done it all. What are you hoping to get involved with next? 

Musically, singing with Ray Charles, Luciano Pavarotti, playing guitar with BB King—all mind blowing. I’m definitely proud of my accomplishments in the industry. From two Grammys for best male vocal performance and 6 AMAs, to songwriter awards, and the range of songwriters I've written with and for—from Bob Dylan to Lady Gaga, to KISS, Streisand and Cher, to Marc Anthony, Kenny G and Patti LaBelle. Even Kanye West and Jay Z sampled two of my songs.  Plus, all the fruits of our labor promoting albums in the Columbia Records years to create a global fanbase which now I continue to record and perform for every year. 

There’s always more I want to do in so many areas, including, of course, more comedy and acting in general for film, TV, and all the exciting new digital platforms out there. But I think what will really make me proud is to launch the new Family Justice Center we’ve been planning with my foundation, The Michael Bolton Charities, which will provide a tremendous service to families in need, as well as our new Music Therapy program “Beyond Trauma-Youth Music Therapy,” a groundbreaking initiative serving students exposed to domestic violence and trauma. Currently, this program is already demonstrating amazing results for children in an alternative high school of last resort in my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. It is the goal of The MBC to replicate this program across Connecticut and beyond.  
You’re performing at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on August 21st. What can fans expect?

I will probably drive down to Maryland from my home, which will only take a few hours. It’s the first show in my fall tour so there’s always a lot of excitement around getting going again, as well as seeing the whole band and crew again. It’s a great energy to start up with the reunion. The show itself will be a tailored set of Greatest Hits, which is why the audience comes—to connect with emotional moments in their lives. I get close to the audience and we joke around, but I can also sense from their energy what repertoire will resonate. So every night is unique for me and that’s what I look forward to.