Michael Bolton: A Voice Across Generations

If you’re a millennial, you probably grew up listening to Michael Bolton as your parents blasted his greatest hits on your home speaker. Michael Bolton’s deep husky voice transcends generations – while your parents loved him, you also grew to love his songs. His music might be ingrained in your memory as you also try to belt out his popular ballads and iconic love songs.

Curious about this balladeer and soft rock artist? Read on to know more.

Introduction

Known for his soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics, Michael Bolton is a multi-awarded singer and songwriter who has and sold over 65 million albums and singles globally. He’s always on the move – he tours the world every year. Alongside this, he’s also busy with a variety of projects in music, film, TV, and even branded entertainment.

Michael Bolton is also recognized for his charm and good looks, having been featured in several of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man” issues, including the “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. Apart from his music career, Bolton is deeply dedicated to charity work, particularly through his own Michael Bolton Charities and other philanthropic efforts.

Early Life

Michael Bolton, originally Michael Bolotin, was born on February 26, 1953, in New Haven, Connecticut. His father, George Bolotin, was actively involved in the Democratic Party, and his mother, Helen, was a homemaker. Michael Grew up with a brother, Orrin, and a sister, Sandra. Michael’s grandparents on both sides were Russian Jewish immigrants.

Michael showed a natural talent for music early on, picking up the saxophone at just seven years old. By the time he was 11, he had also learned to play the guitar and started writing songs at 12. When his parents divorced, he delved deeper into music as an escape.

At 14, he formed a band called the Nomads, which quickly became popular in the New Haven area. This led to a contract with Epic Records when Michael was just 16. With his parents’ blessing, he left school to pursue a musical career. He traveled across the country on US Route 66 and took various odd jobs, including babysitting Paula Abdul.

Musical Style and Artistic Contributions

Though Michael Bolotin (who would later change his name to Michael Bolton) grew up enjoying blues and Motown music, he spent eight years exploring different genres, from heavy metal to Southern rock.

He started by recording his debut blues rock album in 1975 with RCA Records and named it Michael Bolotin. He released his second album, Every Day of My Life, in 1976. Both albums did not do well, leading to the end of his contract. He then focused on hard rock and became the lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Blackjack in 1979. They even had the opportunity to become an opening act for Ozzy Osbourne on tour. Unfortunately, their two albums with Polydor Records also didn’t take off.

By 1982, Bolton found himself jobless and living outside New Haven with his wife and three kids. A turning point came when he was released from his contract with Polydor, and soon after, he signed a solo deal with Columbia Records. In 1983, the rock album Michael Bolton was released – signaling his adoption of his stage name.

The album wasn’t a big hit, but the single “Fool’s Game” gained some attention. During the mid-1980s, Bolton opened for rock acts like Ozzy Osbourne and Krokus.

However, his breakthrough came from songwriting, creating tracks for a diverse range of artists like Gregg Allman, the Pointer Sisters, Kiss, Kenny Rogers, and Laura Branigan. His ballad for Branigan, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” became a hit in 1983. His next album for Columbia, Everybody’s Crazy (1985), wasn’t as successful as hoped.

But things changed with The Hunger (1987), featuring hits like “That’s What Love Is All About,” “Walk Away,” and a cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay.”

Peak Success and Chart-Topping Hits

Michael Bolton really hit his stride with his album Soul Provider (1989), which sold an impressive 12.5 million copies globally. It featured a bunch of chart-topping hits, including the #1 single “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” He originally wrote this track for Laura Branigan, earning him the 1990 Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Soul Provider also included popular tracks like “When I’m Back on My Feet Again,” “How Can We Be Lovers,” “Soul Provider,” and the Grammy-nominated “Georgia on My Mind.”

Bolton kept up the pace with Time, Love & Tenderness (1991), an album full of romantic ballads that quickly climbed to the top of the music charts, selling over nine million copies. It won him his second Grammy for his rendition of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.” This album was a major hit, selling more than 16 million copies worldwide. Besides the award-winning #1 hit “When A Man Loves a Woman,” it included other popular singles like “Love Is a Wonderful Thing,” “Time, Love and Tenderness,” “Missing You Now,” and the Bob Dylan collaboration “Steel Bars.”

The next year, Michael Bolton brought out Timeless (1992), an album full of classic songs originally performed by artists like Sam Cooke, the Bee Gees, Sam & Dave, and the Beatles. This album was a hit, selling 7 million copies worldwide, featuring popular singles like “To Love Somebody” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” He included his version of “You Are My Sunshine” in the charity compilation For Our Children: The Concert (1993).

On his next album, The One Thing (1993), Bolton wrote nearly all the songs himself. It produced the hit single “Said I Loved You…But I Lied,” which became a huge success, staying at #1 on the AC charts for 12 weeks and earning him another Grammy nomination.

However, it’s his Greatest Hits 1985–1995 (1995) that really showcases the best of his music career. Bolton continued to release albums, including All That Matters (1997), “My Secret Passion: The Arias (1998), Only a Woman Like You (2002), ‘Til the End of Forever (2005), One World One Love (2009 in the UK and 2010 in the US), Gems: The Duets Collection (2011), Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: A Tribute to Hitsville USA (2013), A Symphony of Hits (2019), and Spark of Light (2023). He also penned an autobiography titled The Soul of It All: My Music, My Life in 2013.

Legacy

Michael Bolton’s impressive legacy includes winning 2 Grammys for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance (with four nominations), 6 American Music Awards, and a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He’s also received over 24 BMI & ASCAP Awards as a songwriter, including Songwriter of the Year, 9 Million-Air awards, and the Hitmakers Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. With nine studio albums hitting the Top Ten and nine #1 singles, Bolton has truly become an icon in the music industry.

When it comes to songwriting, his works are diverse and prolific. Bolton has written songs that have been recorded and performed by more than 100 artists, ranging from country western icon Conway Twitty to hip-hop superstar Kanye West, Jay-Z, and John Legend. Other notable artists who’ve performed Bolton’s songs include Mark Anthony, Wynonna Judd, Joe Cocker, and Patti LaBelle.

He has partnered with many top songwriters and producers, including Lady Gaga, Diane Warren, Desmond Child, David Foster, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, A.R. Rahman, Ne-Yo, John “Mutt” Lange, and others. Notably, he co-wrote with the legendary Bob Dylan on the hit “Steel Bars.”

Bolton has a knack for writing #1 hit singles, influencing the careers of artists like Laura Branigan (“How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”), Barbra Streisand (“We’re Not Making Love Anymore”), Cher (“I Found Someone”), KISS (“Forever”), and Kenny G (“By the Time this Night is Over”), all of whom have had #1 singles written by Bolton.

Known worldwide, Bolton has performed with music legends like Luciano Pavarotti, with whom he delivered a memorable performance of “Vesti La Giubba.” He regularly pays tribute to Pavarotti by singing “Nessun Dorma” during his concerts. He’s also shared the stage with Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, and Renee Fleming and even played guitar with BB King. Bolton was nominated for a Grammy for “Georgia on My Mind” and honored to sing it for Ray Charles at the International Jazz Hall of Fame Awards in 1997.

Michael loves to blend new songwriting with classic covers. On his hit album The Hunger, he wrote the #1 single “That’s What Love is All About” and covered Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay.” The album went double Platinum and sold 4 million copies globally.

Bolton’s musical tastes are diverse, spanning from Sinatra hits (“Bolton Swings Sinatra”) to classical arias (“My Secret Passion,” which topped the classical charts for six weeks). His latest album features a mix of Motown and soulful classics alongside original compositions.

Other Ventures

Besides making hits, releasing albums, and songwriting, Bolton dabbled into other pursuits.

His music has been a staple in TV and film soundtracks, including the Oscar-nominated “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules (1997) and the Russell Crowe film Fathers & Daughters (2015).

He’s also a documentary producer, focusing on serious issues like domestic violence in Terror at Home (2005) and the renaissance of Detroit in Gotta Keep Dreaming (2016). Michael even received an Emmy nomination for writing “Tears of The Angels,” a song he wrote and performed for his 2005 documentary.

Bolton’s recent work includes “Songs of Cinema,” a collection of iconic movie soundtrack songs, and a Netflix comedy special, “Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special.”

Among his other ventures, his philanthropic work might be the most notable. In 1993, Bolton founded The Michael Bolton Foundation, later renamed The Michael Bolton Charities – an organization founded with a mission to support women and children facing the challenges of poverty, emotional distress, and abuse, be it physical or sexual.

However, the charity faced criticism in the late 1990s for allocating a meager percentage of contributions to actual charitable efforts. In 1995, only 15% of the $2.6 million raised went to charity, primarily funding a concert featuring Bolton himself.

Over the years, Bolton and the foundation have maintained a close association with former Republican Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland, who directed state funding toward the charity.

Bolton also holds the honorary chairman position at Prevent Child Abuse America, serves as the national chairman for This Close for Cancer Research, and sits on the boards of the National Mentoring Partnership and the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.

On a lighter note, on July 25, 1993, Bolton showcased his sporting spirit by playing against Michael Jordan in a charity softball game at Chicago White Sox’s Comiskey Park. Bolton’s team, The Bolton Bombers, emerged victorious with a 7–1 win over Jordan’s team, Jordan’s Air Force, featuring celebrities like Magic Johnson, Chris Chelios, and MC Hammer.

In March 2003, Bolton collaborated with Lifetime Television, Verizon Wireless, and others to advocate for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, pushing for legislation to provide better assistance, including affordable housing, to domestic violence victims.

Bolton’s philanthropic efforts have earned him awards, including the Lewis Hine Award from the National Child Labor Committee, the Martin Luther King Award from the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations. Recognizing his musical and charitable contributions, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored Bolton with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Personal Life

Bolton playfully identifies as a “rebel Jew” and was raised in a liberal household. His childhood home was adorned with both a Hanukkah menorah and a Christmas tree, reflecting the diverse traditions within his family. Despite leaving Hebrew school at age 12 due to his penchant for humor, Bolton celebrated his bar mitzvah at 13 and still holds some Jewish beliefs. He is also a committed vegetarian since the 1970s.

From 1975 to 1990, Bolton was married to his first wife, Maureen McGuire, with whom he shares three daughters—Isa, Holly, and Taryn. In October 2010, he joyfully welcomed his first grandchild through his daughter Taryn, and by February 2019, he became a grandfather to six grandchildren.

In 1992, Bolton was introduced to actress Nicollette Sheridan by jazz saxophonist Kenny G. They started a relationship that year and broke up in 1995. However, they reunited again in 2005, and the relationship culminated in an engagement in March 2006. However, the meeting was confirmed to be called off in August 2008.