116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MTV was ubiquitous and powerful during the 1980s. If you were a recording artist, you coveted video play on the music network. If you were a music fan, you wanted your MTV.
Michael Jackson, Madonna and George Michael connected with fans in such disparate cities around the country as San Francisco, New York and in tiny Piggott, Ark., population 3,489.
The latter is where Craig Winberry was inspired by Michael and his group, Wham! during the '80s. The suave Michael's image, energy and music moved Winberry.
What: “The Life and Music of George Michael” concert
Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 4, 2022
Tickets: $26.50 to $156 VIP, creventslive.com/events/2021/the-life-and-music-of-george-michael
COVID protocols: Face masks recommended
"There was never anyone quite like George Michael," Winberry said while calling from Dallas. "I grew up listening to his music and watching him on MTV, just like everybody else. George took risks and he was so confident and then there is the legacy of his music."
Winberry stars as the late singer in "The Life and Music of George Michael," an immersive concert experience coming Friday to the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Sharing the spotlight is London native Rory Phelan, who sings the music of Michael’s early years. In his cast bio, he describes himself as a huge Wham! and George Michael fan, who is thrilled to perform his favorite song, Faith,” off Michael’s 1987 solo debut album, in front of fans "who loved George Michael and his music as much as he did.“
Both performers are on the money about the pop star’s music.
Michael was blessed with a supple, expressive voice and the ability to write catchy and melodic songs that he produced. His pinup status and rise to the top of the British pop music heap during the ’80s obscured the fact that Michael was so gifted.
"George had music that caught people's attention for four decades," Winberry said. "That's extraordinary."
Michael, who died of heart failure on Dec. 25, 2016, was indeed a talented icon. He sold more than 115 million albums during his career, and won two Grammys, three Brit awards, three American Music Awards and four MTV Video Music Awards.
Songs such as the surprisingly deep "Everything She Wants" and the infectious "Freedom '90" still hold up and are part of "The Life and Music of George Michael."
Other hits fans will hear include “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Freedom,” “Faith,” “Careless Whisper” and “Father Figure.”
"He was masterful at bringing other influences into his music," Winberry said. "There was rock, jazz, R&B, pop and gospel."
Winberry could particularly relate to the latter since he grew up singing hymns in a Southern Baptist church.
"George Michael was ahead of his time," Winberry said. "He has an expansive music catalog. You can't pigeonhole him. He was much more than a teenybopper. He went from Wham! to writing songs with mature themes. He's someone we can't forget and we should go back and immerse ourselves in his music.
“I'm proud to be sharing George's legacy through his music. I would never say that I'm George Michael. I look like him and I sound like him, but there's only one George Michael. He stood out and was incredible. He created a musical journey which shouldn't end."
Winberry's favorite song to belt out is "Jesus to a Child." The tune is a tip of the hat to Michael's Brazilian significant other, Anselmo Feleppa, whom the singer met in Rio de Janeiro in 1991. Feleppa died from an AIDS-related brain bleed in March 1993.
"It was a tragedy, but George wrote a beautiful song," Winberry said. "He had such a gift that he shared. It touched me when I was young and it stays with me. George was such a unique superstar."