George MichaelAlthough I played saxophone in school bands and sang along to the radio just like everyone else, I had no aspirations to be a singer or pursue a career in music. In the Fall of 1984, I was off to college to figure things out and discover which path was for me. Business? Marketing? Maybe an architect? I had no clue.

My first memory of George Michael was with Wham! as their Make It Big album and single ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ saturated the airwaves in 1984 and ’85. I really liked his songs, style and energy but it wasn’t until I saw his performance of ‘Love In Need Of Love Today’ with Stevie Wonder on ‘Motown Salutes the Apollo’ in 1985, did I start to question (and consider) what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Shortly after seeing that performance, someone in the college dorm heard me singing and asked if I was interested in auditioning for the popular cover band on campus.  I guess I got my answer.

Whenever I listened to the radio and sang along, I always tried to mimic the tone of the singer, male or female. However, with George, little effort was needed. My natural voice was very similar to his and probably why I became such a huge fan.  Later on, I would become so identified with George and his music that family and friends would often say to me, even to this day, “I heard Wham!…” or “I heard George Michael on the radio and thought of you.” Of course I’m always humbled to be mentioned in the same sentence.

George‘s rich, emotional tone was equaled, in my opinion, to his songwriting. Fun, energetic Pop/Dance songs made him famous but the introspective, sensitive work gained the respect of his peers. His collaborations over the years is a testament to what others felt about his talent. Those include Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Queen, Mary J Blige,  Elton John, Ray Charles and Tony Bennett among many others.

There’s one particular song from his vast catalog that holds a special place in my heart. Every holiday season, the song ‘Last Christmas’ sparked a phone call from my beloved aunt and godmother, Zitzi. She would call me the first time she heard it on the radio and be singing it when I answered. It always made me smile. It will be 3 years since her passing but now her daughter carries the torch.

I had the opportunity to see George at Madison Square Garden for the FAITH tour, twice. At the second show, I was seated next to his sister, Melanie, who was also his stylist at the time. It was an incredible show as George not only commanded the mic but the stage at the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena’.

As of this writing, I’m preparing a tribute show dedicated to George and quite honestly, have mixed emotions about it. I’m excited to be able to share his great music with an audience but like so many around the world, very sad that he is no longer with us. Performing these songs takes on a different meaning now.

I hope that George Michael’s music and legacy will live forever and continue to entertain music lovers and inspire artists around the world, like me.

Thank you, George…

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